House of Commons Library

Oxbridge 'elitism'

Published Monday, June 19, 2017

Both universities now take more than half of their entrants from state schools, if overseas entrants are excluded. These rates are generally increasing, but the historical data shows that progress has been slow. At the end of the 1930s 24% of entrants to Oxford and 19% to Cambridge started their education at a state school. By the early 19050s these rates had increased to 43% and 34% respectively. In the early 1960s 34% of students at Oxford and 27% at Cambridge came from state secondary schools

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Both universities now take more than half of their entrants from state schools, if overseas entrants are excluded. These rates are generally increasing, but the historical data shows that progress has been slow. At the end of the 1930s 24% of entrants to Oxford and 19% to Cambridge started their education at a state school. By the early 19050s these rates had increased to 43% and 34% respectively. In the early 1960s 34% of students at Oxford and 27% at Cambridge came from state secondary schools

State school entry rates at Oxbridge

Interest in the background of students who go to Oxford and Cambridge is nothing new. The 1852 Royal Commissions on both universities identified access by poorer students as an important and longstanding issue. The debate about elitism at Oxford and Cambridge has tended to focus on a single indicator –the proportion of students accepted from state schools- and particularly whether it has gone up or down in the latest year. This gives a limited view only. A fuller picture needs more context, including longer term trends in this indicator, rates of entry for other under-represented groups, data on other prestigious universities and a better understanding of the types of state schools that send pupils to Oxbridge.

Readers may also find a 2016 report from the Sutton Trust on Oxbridge Admissions of interest. The latest statistics on entry can be viewed at:

Early data from Freedom of Information requests on applications and entrance by local authority can be found here.

HESA performance indicators on widening participation can be downloaded at: www.hesa.ac.uk/pi

Commons Briefing papers SN00616

Author: Paul Bolton

Topics: Higher education, Students

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