Following the money: paying out for AAB

“Universities cut fees for top students”

According to The Sunday Times that is. However, the headline doesn quite match the story which is a bit more complicated than that. The BBC presents it a little differently as “Universities to offer A grade students cash”.

All of this seems to be sparked by comments from Steve Smith as he hands over the Presidency of UUK but presumably the details are buried in institutions’ access agreements. The Sunday Times notes:

Kent and Essex universities are among the first to offer special deals. They will give £2,000 scholarships to any recruit for 2012 who gains three As in their A-levels, regardless of their family income.

Kent’s scholarship will be available for every year of the degree course, although the Essex version is a one-off for the first year.

Goldsmiths College will waive its £9,000 annual fees for the brightest 10 students it admits from its south London borough.

Essex and Goldsmiths are both members of the 1994 Group of research-based universities, conventionally seen as an elite grouping. At Essex, however, only 8% of 2009 entrants gained at least two As and a B, while at Goldsmiths the figure was 16%. At Durham, by contrast, another 1994 Group member, the figure was 85%.

Other institutions that have already decided on new deals for 2012 include De Montfort University in Leicester, which will give £1,000 a year to any student with AAB or above.

West London is offering 45 scholarships to students who score at least AA B at A-level, paying 50% of first-year tuition fees, which will average £7,498. South Bank in London will waive its £8,450-a-year fees for up to 85 highly qualified students.

It is possible to envisage this turning into a crazed bidding war with AAB students being offered ever more lucrative details to sign up with one university or another (and is this what was really envisaged in the White Paper?). More likely though is that most students will continue to focus on the courses and institutions which most closely meet their needs. Some may chase the money but most surely will base their decisions on other criteria. Or perhaps we are entering the mercenary period for university admissions?

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Oxbridge Access: Private school v Free School Meals

New Sutton Trust report on access has some rather staggering data

The Sutton Trust report suggests that private school students are 55 times more likely to win a place at Oxbridge and 22 times more likely to go to a top-ranked university than students at state schools who qualify for Free School Meals (FSM). The Trust is proposing, quite reasonably, given the evidence, that the Government’s new £150m per year National Scholarship programme should be used to expand proven outreach work and pilot new approaches – rather than being solely directed to financial support for students. In terms of participation, the report makes a number of telling points:

The latest research from the Sutton Trust calculates that less than one student in a hundred admitted to Oxbridge between 2005 and 2007 had been an FSM pupil. There were only 130 FSM pupils out of 16,110 students in total – whereas nearly half the intake came from independent schools.

These stark university participation gaps are driven by significant gaps in attainment at GCSE level and before: pupils at fee-paying schools were three-and-a-half times more likely to attain five GCSE with grades A*-C including English and maths than the pupils from the poorest homes.

The position is not much better for the 25 most academically selective universities in England according the figures which are based on official statistics covering just under 2 million students enrolled at university over three years.

Only 2% (approximately 1,300 pupils each year) of the intake to these universities was made up of Free School Meal pupils, compared with 72.2% from other state school pupils and just over a quarter (25.8%) from independent schools. That means that independent school pupils were six times as likely to attend a highly selective university as those in state schools (the majority) not entitled to Free School Meals.

Whilst some of the recommendations in the report are, arguably, over-directive, the strength of the case here is undeniable.