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Classless society? Extra cash proposed for universities who take on poorer students

18th October 2012

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There has been a widespread spread consensus that university is a vehicle for social mobility. A social mover, a stepping stone, for which students from poorer backgrounds can achieve better things.  

Alan Milburn, the government’s social mobility adviser, believes universities are so important to social mobility that he has proposed that they should be offered financial incentives for admitting students from less well-off backgrounds. He argues that students from the worst areas should be given substantive leeway on their A-level grades.

In his report, though Milburn recognises improvements have been made, he argues that "When you look at who gets into university, the pool of talent is currently limited because of three gaps: between private and state schools, better off students and worse off ones, and between kids who study key subjects and those who don't. If access to university is to be genuinely classless, there needs to be progress in closing each of those gaps."

Milburn also points out that four private schools and one sixth Form College had more pupils attend Oxbridge universities than 2,000 state secondary schools.  A worrying statistic which helps fuel Milburn’s argument for wider admission and leeway for students from deprived areas.

The recommendations, which are published in a government commissioned report this week, are not without controversy. Critics include Conservative MP’s and private schools who argue that middle class children who work hard to achieve grades will lose out on university places to students with lesser grades.  

In political terms however, Milburn is arguing that such a scheme would simply be an extension of the government’s policy on pupil premium.  The policy, which was initiated by the Liberal Democrats, ensures extra money for children on free school meals. Milburn argues a similar scheme should be introduced to universities "whereby eligible applicants bring extra funding with them."

Financial incentives is not the advisers only proposal - he also believes that universities need to build sustained relationships with schools from the most deprived areas.

In a social climate where student tuition fees have risen to £9,000, concerns of social mobility for young people have never been more prominent. As Milburn ominously states "About 90% of kids who get their A-levels will get into universities. The problem is there is such a high proportion of kids from the lower socio-economic groups who never stay on to A-level."

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