THE deputy vice-chancellor of Huddersfield University has slammed the “out of date information and historical prejudice” surrounding admissions to higher education.
He spoke as the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) claimed that the gap between proportions of rich and poor youngsters attending the UK’s best institutions had widened since the 1990s.
Its study revealed that in the mid-1990s the most advantaged fifth of youngsters were six times more likely to get into the top third of selective universities than the most disadvantaged 40%.
The richest pupils are now seven times more likely, suggesting the efforts of top universities to attract poorer teenagers had stalled.
Prof Peter Slee says most of the debate about fair access is based on prejudice against newer universities.
He said: “At Huddersfield we can see little evidence from national teaching quality assessments to suggest that universities which were built in the earlier part of the century, or which have a stronger bias towards pure research, offer students a higher standard of education and training than those which have more recent foundations.
“The most important issue is that any student going on to higher education goes to the place that they think is best for them, rather than where external commentators think is best for them.
“The University of Huddersfield is among the top five universities in terms of the proportion of its students from less well off backgrounds. We pride ourselves on offering our students a first class learning environment with the highest levels of personal support.”
He added that increasing opportunities at universities like Huddersfield was a more pressing issue than students’ access to the supposed top establishments.
The report revealed teenagers at fee-paying schools accounted for 15% of all A-level entries, but produced 30% of all A grades at that level.
It added that only one in 10 pupils in state schools takes at least one science A-level, compared with one in three pupils in private and grammar schools.
Science and maths A-levels are often the subjects specified by top degree courses as entry requirements.
The study reads: “Disadvantaged pupils may well have had a more limited curriculum choice from the age of 14 and are significantly less likely to progress to post-16 education than their advantaged peers, even if they are very able.
“When they do progress, they are less likely to attend schools or colleges with records of high attainment and so less likely to achieve the highest grades.”
The report condemns teachers’ reluctance to nurture their brightest students, saying many fear “elitism”. It concludes: “Excellence is not a synonym for elitism.”