Recent government figures show that despite perceived advances in recent years, a disproportionate number of students going to university have received a private education. When it comes to the more selective universities in the UK the figures are at their most striking, with just 23% of state school pupils heading to the UK's most prestigious institutions, compared to 63% from private schools. These figures indeed illustrate an alarming disparity and have become worse in recent years. Sally Hunt states: "We are far from a classless society and nowhere is this more apparent than in our education system."
OFFA - the body that regulates access to higher education - released a statement just one day after these figures had been announced, stating the responsibilities of UK universities and the actions that they must take in order to improve the chances of students from the poorest backgrounds getting in and excelling. The body has stated that it aims to double the number of students from poorer backgrounds by the end of the decade.
Yet, although OFFA has announced its targets and has demonstrated sustained efforts to create a fairer playing field among prospective students, these recent figures show that recent progress has been both small and slow.
There have been concerns about how these targets will be achieved. OFFA's report reveals that they had to return 103 out of 183 of the responses sent by universities, as their proposed reforms were not considered bold enough. In order create a fair environment, the universities need to set themselves much more ambitious targets. Last year, 33 universities were challenged in this way.
Sally Hunt, General Secretary of the University and College Union, states four key concerns that she believes to be limiting access for students across the UK:
"¢ Just a sixth of institutions focussed on part-time students - this, despite a worrying 40 per cent drop in the number of students studying part time since 2010-11.
"¢ Only two-fifths of institutions set targets around specific ethnic groups - a small proportion given that ethnic group participation rates vary so widely. Representation of different ethnic groups varies between institutions, subjects, geographic regions, and courses.
"¢ Around a third of institutions set targets in relation to disabled students - but the Government is consulting on changes to the Disabled Students' Allowance which currently supports 7 per cent of students.
"¢ A quarter of institutions did not set targets to address retention measures for students from poorer backgrounds, despite the Government relaxing the numbers of students who can go to university.