Russell Group responds to Sutton Trust report on access

Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group, has responded to the recently published report from education charity the Sutton Trust*, Responding to the new landscape for university access.

Dr Piatt said: "It is important to be very clear about the underlying cause of under-representation of students from low-income families at university. As the report acknowledges, the primary reason why too few students from lower socio-economic backgrounds go to university is under-achievement at school.  Ensuring that students from low-income backgrounds fulfil their potential at school is by far and away the most effective way of increasing their chances of going to a leading university.

"There has been much misinformation about the effect of fees on access. Evidence from around the world and the UK itself clearly shows that fees have not deterred young people with the right qualifications from applying to university particularly when they are combined with a progressive repayment system, precisely as the Government is proposing; participation in higher education from all socio-economic groups has actually increased since the introduction of variable fees in 2006. The proposed graduate repayment scheme means that no student has to pay for higher education until they are earning a reasonable salary (£21,000) as there is no upfront fee. Even then, graduates are only asked to pay back a small proportion of their income. This system is fair and progressive in protecting low earners, while asking higher earners to contribute a bit more through variable interest rates.

"Russell Group universities are committed to attracting students with the most potential from all backgrounds, which is why we invest millions in bursaries and other initiatives designed to help the least advantaged students have the best possible chance of winning a place. Our universities will work hard to ensure that we continue to try all ways possible to attract bright students from low-income backgrounds but also to help them improve their academic achievement, which is the real cause of the problem.

"We are therefore happy to build on our solid track record in spending millions on initiatives to promote fair access and to help solve this serious problem. We welcome the approach set out in the Government's draft guidance letter to OFFA that universities should have the flexibility to decide the mix of their investments in outreach programmes, financial aid to poorer students, and other initiatives to address the barriers that students from under-represented groups face.  

* The main objective of the Sutton Trust is to improve educational opportunities for young people from non-privileged backgrounds and increase social mobility. More information can be found here and the report can be accessed here.

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