Universities 'should offer grants to poor sixth-formers'


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

Related Stories

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.


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 313.

    What does need to be fixed is those who go to "University" (I use the term loosely to accommodate those former colleges of higher education etc. masquerading as such) with poor grades or are enrolled on courses that will not enhance their future careers. Perhaps if this were the case there would be enough money about to fund University education?

  • rate this

    Comment number 312.

    I would only ever vote Labour, but Alan Milburn is talking absolute tripe. Kick him out of the party.

    Universities have no money because the government has cut 80% of funding. This is why students are paying £9K, to make up for the loss. There is no extra money.

    Labour can never be re-elected with people like Milburn bringing the party down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 311.

    The government stop funding but want to choose, what is now essentially a business, what they should do?
    The truth is, why would the universities want to take a person who is going to cost them to look after? It makes no economical sense. They still make a loss from all English students. This whole thing doesn't work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 310.

    Rather than fixating on University, can we put some more focus into getting the basic education system sorted first please?

    While we're still sending kids out to work who can barely spell and have a knowlege of basic science and history that's insulting, we're in no position to worry about whether or not they're getting a nice degree that 3 years world experience will beat anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 309.

    The governement has not more money to spend and knows we will not accept more taxes so they are keep putting more and more jobs on things like universities, which will cause higher fees.

    They seem to be adicted to spending more and more!

  • rate this

    Comment number 308.

    I don't know who is better off: someone who works his backside off to earn circa 25K after tax, or someone who receives just that or even more on benefit. Why the latter is considered worst off and his kids should get cheap university places to sweeten the deal? What’s the point of being employed?

  • rate this

    Comment number 307.

    Well, if you believe paying 10k extra a year shouldn't get you (on average) better results, you are sadly dreaming. It's a market.
    State schs lose out because of all this PC non-sense, so they don't pool talent, in case the do-gooders think it's discrimination.
    Talent beats money, any day - if you don't put them in the right place, don't blame others for pooling resources.

  • rate this

    Comment number 306.

    304.Nicole Watts

    Intelligence is not measured by how many exams you have passed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 305.

    I do find it odd that some people believe that grades are all about hard work and drive from the individual pupil.

    If that were the case, why do some well off parents bother sending their children to very expensive schools?

    Grades can be increased with access to resources and better teaching, but there's a whole raft of kids with lower grades who will be more intelligent and do better at uni.

  • rate this

    Comment number 304.

    As someone from a less priveledged background and also applying to universities this year, I think this whole idea is ridiculous. We should all be expected to achieve the same grades no matter of our background. Once at university, if you have a lower level of intelligence compared to others on your course then that disadvantages you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 303.

    What we need is MERITOCRACY in all areas of life. The best, the hardest worker, the most immaginative etc.leading the way. If professions and business sponsored more places for those who excel at 6th form level (anonymous re school and surname)for subjects which have advantage in their own line of employment the best might get the uni place and a job at the end. Getting bacik what is put in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 302.

    Of course our wonderful ivory towers (incubators of our glorious leaders) should not pay for working class upstarts to go to university (they might even want to become Ministers themselves - then where would we be?) No, the present arrangements keep the riff-raff out.

    yours limply
    Sebastian Flyte

  • rate this

    Comment number 301.

    @290 - while its true that more privately educated children get more places at the top universities, I'd like to see some evidence to back up that they are going on lower grades than state educated children?

  • rate this

    Comment number 300.

    why should they? university is a choice its not a given, as a nation we provide free education to all up to the age of 18. if lets say a poorer child cannot afford fees, then like all others need to take part time work and loans to cover this. that would mean poorer kids leave uni with less debt which isnt fair. people forget uni isnt really worth it as too many degrees devalue it

  • rate this

    Comment number 299.

    Define 'poor' ! The wealthy will always send their kids to university whatever happens, the middle class will always try. You would be better off improving the education standards for the vast majority of the UK population. When I see what my child comes home with, it makes me want to weep. It really is education for the lowest common denominator.

  • rate this

    Comment number 298.

    I teach A level science, paid hourly, class contact only. A full teaching load for 19k + reduced pension! Prep & marking are 'free': total work 60hrs pw and HUGE student responsibility. Most good STEM graduates won't do this - I'd leave but for family commitments. Stop undermining teachers and standards will rise.
    131 Emzdad - do you work harder? A 'proper' contact would only pay 30k for 60hrs!

  • rate this

    Comment number 297.

    So the scrapping of the EMA and the givernment replacement of it was a failure which limited social mobility. The only person surprised should be Michael Grove- so now the Universities are to pick up the bill... Government strikes again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 296.

    Simply put, if we are going compete on the world stage we need as many people as possible achieving a high level education. This means providing all those with the ability, access to university. Low income is undeniably a barrier to good education and this needs to change.
    The problem is that we do not identify our childrens talents (whatever they are) and then develop them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 295.

    I do wish the BBC would focus on the quality of education, rather than constantly harping on about its social mobility implications.

    It really just shows how stuck in the past the BBC, like so much of the Establishment, is.

    Just be clear, BBC. Going to uni is not necessarily a good thing, even in social mobility terms.

    The BBC clearly regards being working class as a condition to be cured.

  • rate this

    Comment number 294.

    Ridiculous left wing socialist tripe, just another example of a 'benefits' culture allowing a certain demographic getting perks without having to put in the work.
    If you think that the top 4 Fee paying schools sent as many students to University as 2000 State schools because they work Harder and not because their resources and support are vastly superior you are as deranged as Michael Gove


Page 4 of 19


More Education & Family stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.