Alan Milburn is putting universities at the heart of his blueprint to increase social mobility and break down barriers to success. Universities find that position uncomfortable, even though they support the aim. Figures suggest just 10% of first year undergraduates in the UK are from poor areas and at top universities, the proportion will be lower. This is from the BBC…
The latest report from the former Labour minister says teenagers from the richest 20% of households are seven times more likely to go to a top university than those in the poorest 40%.
Alan Milburn was asked by the government to look at the issue of social mobility and make recommendations.
Many of these relate to universities – the most controversial of which are lower grade offers to pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and a call for universities to fund teenagers to stay in school or college.
But Mr Milburn’s report makes clear that it is not just universities which should do more to boost achievement among the poorest in society and says it is time for the “blame game” to stop.
“The blame game – where universities blame schools, schools blame parents and everyone blames the government – has to end,” he told reporters.
It is clear, and recognised by Mr Milburn, that many young people have little chance of going to university because they have not even got basic qualifications.
Four out of ten 16-year-olds in England do not get five good GCSEs (A* to C) including maths and English – the basic measure on which school league tables are based.
Many universities are doing what is called outreach work with secondary schools – holding open days or summer schools for students or going in to talk to pupils so that they consider working towards a university place.
But some experts argue that catching youngsters at 15 or 16 might be too late and that the answer is to raise aspirations early, so pupils see university as an option, make the right choices in terms of subjects and put in the effort needed to get there.
Some universities, such as Liverpool, target primary schools with this in mind.
Through its Professor Fluffy programme, which involves a “cuddly toy professor”, it works with primary schools to introduce youngsters to the idea of higher education.
And Nottingham Trent University holds “Family Fun Evenings” for 10 and 11-year-olds from poorer areas and their parents to introduce them to higher education.
University College London has sponsored an academy in Camden (called the UCL Academy), offering master classes, summer schools and mentors as well as giving pupils an idea of “life at university from a young age”, it says.
And the University of East Anglia is involved with the City Academy, Norwich.
Mr Milburn says all top universities should follow suit and sponsor academy schools in disadvantaged areas.