Higher Education Bill

Today I spoke out in opposition to the Government's plans for our universities during the Second Reading of the Higher Education Bill. I didn't have time to say everything that I wanted to say, so I have posted the speech that I planned to give on my Facebook page.

In my speech I focused on the lack of progress in improving access to our universities, particularly top universities. I have copied this section of my speech below:

"The figures are striking.

Between 2005 and 2015 the proportion of the intake of Russell Group universities coming from poor backgrounds has gone up from 19.5% to just 20.8%. 1% in a decade is not even close to being acceptable.

7 of the 24 Russell Group universities have seen the percentage of deprived pupils they admit fall in the last decade according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency – including Oxford, Cambridge and Durham.

Only 4% of students at our top 10 universities are from the most disadvantaged areas, an increase of 0.6% compared to 2009 (Social Market Foundation).

Just 3.6% of Cambridge students and 2.4% of Oxford students are from the 20% of areas with the lowest Higher Education participation levels according to the Sutton Trust.

Independent school pupils are almost three times as likely to be accepted into the 30 most highly selective universities compared to comprehensive school students – acceptance rates are 48.2% compared to 18%.

State pupils in Hammersmith and Fulham are 10 times as likely to be accepted into a highly selective university and 50 times as likely to be accepted into Oxbridge compared to pupils in Hackney.

Four schools and one college send more students to Oxbridge each year than the bottom 2,000 schools and colleges put together.

100 elite schools account for 31.9% of admissions to Oxbridge – the same proportion as 2008 – so we have seen absolutely no progress on opening up Oxbridge.

St Pauls Girls and Westminster are leading the way – almost half of all of students go to Oxbridge – while more than 1,300 schools do not have a single Oxbridge entrant and only 50 students on free school meals were admitted to Oxbridge in 2013.

I acknowledge that progress has been made at widening access to our universities for the most disadvantaged students.

More poor children are going to university, but the crucial question is which university?

Not just widening participation but fair access so you too can make your way from Sunderland, from Darlington from Tottenham to these universities.

The stats show that most are winning places at middle and low-ranked universities, not the most selective and research-intensive institutions.

In the ten years to 2015, non-Russell Group universities saw the proportion of their students increased from 32.5% to 37.5%.

The Office for Fair Access’ latest review of institutional performance in widening participation shows that universities with the most work to do are the least likely to be hitting access targets.

The London School of Economics is only on track to meet 1 of 6 targets, Oxford has only met two of its four targets.

Earlier this year the Minister admitted there is a “worrying lack of progress at some institutions” and called on “highly selective universities to redouble their efforts to reach out to students from disadvantaged backgrounds”. Can the Minister tell us exactly how the Government plans to ensure that this happens in practice?

Mr Speaker,

The question I want to ask the Government is: Do we want our universities to be engines of social mobility, or do we accept that universities will merely reinforce and embed the inequality of opportunity that pervades our society?

That is the central question and that is the test against which this Bill must be measured.

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