The Daily Telegraph
Universities put squeeze on middle classes
Places offered to teenagers from the most affluent backgrounds drop for the first time in a decade
THE squeeze on university places for middle-class teenagers has been laid bare in figures released today.
As institutions come under pressure to accept more pupils from poorer backgrounds, so 18-year-olds from the most affluent areas of Britain have seen the first decline in entry rates in a decade.
Statistics from Ucas, the universities admissions service, show that 88,940 teenagers from postcode areas rated “the most advantaged” accepted places this year.
The figure was down from 89,720 in 2021 – a fall of 1.8 percentage points.
Meanwhile, a record 31,890 teenagers from the least affluent areas have accepted university places – up from 30,280 in 2021 – which represents a rise of 0.5 percentage points.
Teenagers from the most affluent areas are still the most likely to go to university, with a 50.9 per cent entry rate. However, the gap has narrowed as the entry rate for pupils from the most disadvantaged areas was 24 per cent this year. Ucas said the figures showed that “widening participation continues to grow”.
John Blake, of the Office for Students, the higher education regulator, said earlier this year that universities needed to “redouble their efforts to ensure their doors are open to talented students from disadvantaged backgrounds”.
The stance has led to accusations that universities are discriminating against private school pupils or teenagers from wealthy families.
Leading private schools such as Eton College have seen a drop in pupils securing Oxbridge places and students are increasingly looking to study at American universities. Lord David Wil- letts, the former Conservative universities minister, told The Daily Telegraph that teenagers from private schools or affluent backgrounds would be dis- placed by disadvantaged pupils unless more universities are built.
He said: “If every extra place for a disadvantaged student comes at the expense of a place of a student from a more advantaged background, it’s much harder to win the game. One of the reasons why you need to have an increase in the total number of higher education places is so you’re not depriving some young people of an opportunity they would otherwise have had.”
Ucas data show offer rates for teenagers placed in five groups according to the proportion of young people who enter higher education from that area.
The methodology, known as Polar, is a key tool used by universities to assess whether a candidate is disadvantaged.
Overall, 275,390 18-year-olds living in the UK have been accepted on to a university course which represents 37.3 per cent of that age group.
Universities accepted 62,200 international students, which accounted for 12 per cent of all new students – a rise of 4.5 per cent on last year – but is 12.5 per cent lower than in 2019.
Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said this year some middle-class students will have taken advantage of sought-after apprenticeships offered by companies such as Deloitte, Lloyds Bank and BP.