Universities 'should offer grants to poor sixth-formers'


Report author Alan Milburn said universities could help fund poorer pupils to stay at school

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England's universities should fund grants, like the scrapped education maintenance allowance, to help poor pupils stay in school and get on degree courses, a former Labour MP says.

Alan Milburn makes the call in a social mobility report for the government.

He says universities spend too much on bursaries and reduced tuition fees for poorer students and should instead target money at schools.

He also says universities should take an applicant's background into account.

When deciding what A-level grades a student needs to get to obtain a place, for example, pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds should be given lower entry offers.

While many universities do already do this, Mr Milburn wants to see a more streamlined system by 2014.

The disclosure is likely to fuel the debate surrounding "social engineering" in university admissions and lead to fresh fears privately-educated children will face discrimination.

Early intervention

Mr Milburn, who was enlisted by the coalition to review policies surrounding social mobility, says there has been a great deal of progress in recent years in getting youngsters from non-traditional backgrounds into university.

Start Quote

The best thing that can be done in my view is to try to get kids to stay on at school after 16, to study hard, work well, get their A-level results”

End Quote Alan Milburn Government social mobility adviser

But he says government and universities must do more to ensure "those with talent and potential" get into university.

Mr Milburn claims poor GCSE and A-level results remain the biggest barrier to higher education and says universities' efforts should be channelled towards intervention at a much earlier age.

Some of the money they currently spend on fee waivers and bursaries would be better targeted at getting 16-year-olds to stay on in education, achieve good A-levels and get into higher education.

This follows the scrapping of the education maintenance allowance in England last year after ministers claimed most of the money was "dead weight" - going to students who would have attended sixth form or college anyway.

Mr Milburn told the BBC: "The best thing that can be done in my view is to try to get kids to stay on at school after 16, to study hard, work well, get their A-level results and then progress on to university.

"So one of the things that universities can look at doing, following the government's decision, which I think is regrettable, to abolish the education maintenance allowance, is to provide a financial incentive for poorer families to get their youngsters to stay on at 16 rather than going into work because that way they stand the best chance of getting into higher education."

Mr Milburn's report, which is being published on Thursday, will also call for a foundation year programme in all universities, where less advantaged youngsters will have the opportunity to catch up with their peers.

He also wants all Russell Group universities to sponsor a city academy school.

Oxford competition

Prior to the report's publication, Mike Nicholson, director of undergraduate admissions and outreach at Oxford University, said his university was already working hard to attract a wider range of student and made tutors aware of students' backgrounds.

Oxford now had 17,000 applications for 3,200 places, compared with 13,000 just five years ago, he said.

Certain groups in society that might previously have expected places at the university would now find competition fiercer, he said, adding that students who may have got in five, 10, 15 or 20 years ago probably would not now.

"But that's not necessarily a bad thing at all - what we're doing is reaching out to a much broader range of students and making it possible for them to see themselves at Oxford," he added.

Professor Eric Thomas president of Universities UK said: "The report recognises rightly that school results remains one of the biggest barriers preventing students from disadvantaged backgrounds progressing onto university.

"Although there are many good examples of universities, schools and colleges working together to raise aspirations and academic attainment to support this process, more can be done by working in collaboration."

He said that his group supported the use of contextual data but that this does not have to involve admitting applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds with lower entry grades.

"While some universities do consider lowering their requirements by one or two grades, this is part of a much wider process in which the university considers a range of factors alongside an applicant's grades," he added.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    @87.Stoic. who do you think would have been accepted?

    Nowadays probably you. From my (fee paying) shool 10 people applied to Cambridge all with predicted 5As at A-level. Only 1 got in. More private school kids than state ones apply yet these days the ratio that gets accepted is almost 50:50. It's not fair to descriminate against people due to thier background either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    Education/learning is critical to the long term well being of any society, it is a vital tool, if you are not shown how to use it, or are not even aware that this tool exists, or it costs more than you can afford, or not even given the tool until it is to late " the big society " fails itself in the long term.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    Welcome to Britain 2012, where you are only allowed a decent education if you are posh enough to afford it.

    Whatever happened to meritocracy ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    The highest rated comments on here so far seem to have been made by people upon whom education has had little effect.

    Presumably they are eagerly looking forward to a future when graduates pay more tax than non-graduates who are doing the same job - if there are any jobs that is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    Going to UNI only means you have been educated to a certain degree. It's doesn't guarantee or mean you know how to work in the real world; so just get a job like the rest of us and stop moaning.

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    Selection for universities should be based purely on academic merit irrespective of everything else (race, gender, age etc.). After that, fine, give means-tested bursaries to the poor.

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    @125. Digital_Cricket_

    If you didn't get in, it might be because you didn't apply. Perhaps more working class kids would get to Oxbridge if their teachers didn't tell them not to apply.

    I didn't apply since I am disabled and despite having the relevant 'A' levels it was impractical in the 60's

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.


    You were fortunate to get a job and probably one with overtime. When employers require at least 3 GCSE at C to wash cars (pre automated washers) you might get the idea of what youngsters are up against now at the manual work level.

  • Comment number 145.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    It is indeed very sad that within a generation we've gone from a situation where university education was free and open to all intelligent people, to one where poor but gifted people are expected to borrow 50 grand and be grateful for it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    High school education is free! Its not about being disadvantaged, its about making the most of an opportunity. Those that seek education can obtain it. It is not out of reach.

    I blame the layabout parents, dependant on handouts, for not pushing their children further.

    Get rid of the benefits culture!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.


    Universities, like it or not, need revenue from somewhere.

    But basing entry criteria for UK students on colour and sexual orientation has the potential to deny entry to able students who could then go on and be successful in the future but don't fit those narrow criteria doesn't it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    All state schools need to be brought up to the same standard. It seems so unfair that our local comprehensive has been rated 'inadequate' while ten miles away is an 'outstanding' comprehensive. This school has taken children from our area but it means an hours bus ride both ways. All children should be entitled to the same standard of state education, and within their local catchment area.

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    What rubbish. The only way you should get into university is by your intelligence. If you're not good enough then you don't go to the best universities. The cream rises to the top wherever you come from. There's new universities for those with 3 E's at A-Level, that is where you go if you're not good enough. Any fiddling 'just' because of your background weakens the value of the system.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    A baby boomer who got lucky tells us what to do, heh ho. Give money out to sop his conscience. Universities should use their accomodation and tutors in holidays to provide education to those from the type of background that the guilt ridden Milburn came from. Indeed he could call on his alamata to help with him as a tutor in how he social mobilized through '70s unionism, those were the days.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    Why do Labour ALWAYS need to find an excuse for everything ? Why do they try to solve every problem by throwing money at it ?
    Speak to an Indian, Chinese or Japanese person and ask them if being poor is a barrier to university. They believe that it's hard work that determines how well you do - not social background.
    Stop stereotyping "the poor" and throwing money at them. It doesn't work

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    Q: What's the best way to encourage students from financially poor backgrounds to go to University ?

    A: Charge them £9,000 a year, plus living costs ( say £15,000 a year in total ).

    That just sounds crazy !! And yet it's true !

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    Under Labour anyone could go to Uni, unfortunately we ended up with too many people with degrees chasing too few jobs. Under the coalition we now have Uni places for the Rich & privliged only, completely the opposite extreme. We need a system were all can access Uni education but based on qualifications i.e good A level results.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    120. John_from_Hendon - You talk about economic incompetence then say that it would depress house prices? Not that it's anything to do with house prices but if it did that would be economic competence. High costs for essentials of living is a bad thing. You're right about forcing loans on students though, particularly when it now affects such a large proportion. That spending millstone is not good

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    and why would Universities want to fund poorer students when the govt has taken all their money away from them forcing them to charge top rate for fees...

    I swear stupidity reigns supreme in this Island!!


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