Written by Joanna Hughes

The Universities College and Admissions Service (UCAS) has released its latest figures. While the gap is closing between disadvantaged students and their well-off counterparts, the rate of improvement is sluggish. Here’s a closer look at the trend, as recently reported by The Guardian.

Inching Up

The entrance rate for “school-leavers from the areas of lowest educational attainment” rose to 19.7 percent in 2018 from 19.3 percent in 2017. While this rate slightly outpaced growth for students from better-off regions, there is still a long way to go before the UK achieves educational attainment equality. In fact, in Scotland, students from wealthiest areas were a staggering three times more likely to attend college than their counterparts from the last well-off areas.

UCAS chief executive Clare Marchant said, “While it’s encouraging to see record levels of students from the most disadvantaged areas going to university, the slow progress in closing the gap is disheartening.”

It’s also worth noting that despite the government’s efforts to improve access to schools with the most rigorous entry standards, 18-year-olds from the top 20 percent of areas in terms of educational attainment were more than five times more likely to study at “high-tariff” universities than their peers from the least advantaged 20 percent.

“There is also indication that progress in closing this gap may be slowing, with the reduction seen this year only around a fifth of that seen in recent years,” noted UCAS.

Meanwhile, much of the growth among students from disadvantaged backgrounds was seen at “low-tariff” institutions, which have the lowest entry standards.

A Call for Transparency

In response to concerns expressed over poor students graduating with high debt, meanwhile, education secretary Damian Hinds spoke of a move toward transparency and accountability.

“I want to see how universities are tackling this issue, and we now require them to publish offer and acceptance rates by gender, ethnicity, and social background so the Office for Students can take action if needed to drive improvements in access,” said Hinds.

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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