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Oxbridge 'elitism'

Published Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Oxford and Cambridge now take around 60% of their new student from state schools and rates have been above 50% for most of the past two decades. Interest in these rates is longstanding, but progress has, over the decades, been quite slow.

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For most of the last two decades both Oxford and Cambridge have taken more than half of their entrants from state schools. The latest rates are 59% for Oxford and 61% for Cambridge, or somewhat higher if overseas students at UK schools are excluded. These rates have generally increased over the past few decades, 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 1950s 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

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.

The latest statistics on entry can be viewed at:

Oxford University publishes a range of more detailed data in interactive tables. These includes the socio-economic background of entrants by college, entrants by local authority, Parliamentary Constituency, ethnicity and disadvantage. These are listed individually in each category on the Undergraduate admissions statistics page (under ‘detailed statistics’).

Readers may be interested in the Sutton Trust reports Oxbridge Admissions from 2016 and Access to Advantage from 2018 . Data from Freedom of Information requests on applications and entrance by local authority and socio-economic breakdowns can be found on David Lammy MP’s website.
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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