Rail firm offers free trips to university open day
A railway company is to offer free train tickets to all students going to a university's open day.
West Midlands Railway will provide free travel to the University of Worcester this autumn.
It follows warnings that disadvantaged families were not able to go to open days because of travel costs.
Anne-Marie Canning, director of social mobility at King's College London, said rail fares had become a major barrier to widening access to university.
Jon Harris, of West Midlands Railway, said this pilot scheme was part of a commitment to making rail travel "accessible for all".
Students can register with the university for a voucher for a free ticket for the next open day in September, which can be used on West Midlands Railway and London Northwestern Railway services.
Limited by rail fares
Open days, where applicants can ask tutors about courses and look at accommodation, have been attracting tens of thousands of families in recent weeks.
But the BBC has highlighted concerns that the cost of getting to open days had become a significant limit on applying to university.
When long-distance rail tickets can cost £100 or £200, and students might want to see several potential universities, it can become unaffordable.
Ms Canning says her work with families in disadvantaged areas, looking at barriers to university, had found the cost of train tickets to open days had been raised by parents as one of the biggest worries.
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The social mobility charity, the Villiers Park Educational Trust, had also warned that poorer youngsters were limiting their applications to the universities which they could afford to reach on open days.
There is no obligation to attend an open day, but they have become big recruitment events, where students get a chance to see where they would live and study and to view the facilities on offer.
The charity found that young people saw going to university as a major financial commitment - and many would not consider applying to a place they had not visited.
"We know how important open days are for prospective students. It is a chance to ask questions, speak to lecturers and to get a feel for whether it is the place for them," said the University of Worcester's pro vice-chancellor, Ross Renton.
He said that everyone had a "fundamental right to education" and the offer from the rail company would "help make travel costs less prohibitive for people" wanting to visit the university.
The rail company's offer of tickets to open days follows another scheme providing free travel for those going to job interviews or to training courses for job seekers.