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England's most selective universities 'taking lower proportion of state pupils'

England's most selective universities are still taking a lower proportion of state school teenagers than many other institutions, figures suggest.

New data shows that the percentage of state-educated youngsters studying for a degree varies widely between universities.

At some institutions virtually all students went to a state school, while at others the proportion is less than two thirds.

In addition, just over one in 10 (11.3%) entrants in 2015/16 were from "low participation" neighbourhoods - those areas that do not send many students on to higher education. This is down from 11.4% last year.

The figures come amid a continued push by government and higher education to widen participation, encouraging students from all backgrounds to study for a degree.

Overall, 89.9% of UK young, full-time undergraduates starting courses at British universities in 2015/16 were educated in the state sector, according to figures published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), a similar proportion to the year before (89.8%).

In England alone, 89.8% of entrants were state educated.

A breakdown of the figures shows differences between universities, with a ll Russell Group universities - those that typically ask potential students for high-entry grades and are often considered the best in the country - in the second half of the table.

Oxford, which has the lowest proportion of state-educated students, excluding small specialist colleges, has seen a drop in entrants from this background, with 55.7% of its intake in 2015/16 from state schools and colleges, compared with 57.7% five years ago in 2011/12.

All other Russell Group institutions have seen an increase in the percentage of state-educated students in the last five years.

Among English universities, again excluding smaller specialist colleges, Liverpool Hope University had the highest percentage of state school pupils at 99.4%, followed by Bolton at 99.3% and Bedfordshire at 99%.

At the other end of the scale, besides Oxford, 60.5% of Durham's entrants were state-educated, along with 61.4% of those starting at Bristol, 61.9% of entrants to Cambridge and 65.5% of starters at Imperial College, the HESA's figures show.

The Russell Group university with the highest percentage of state school pupils starting in 2015/16 was Liverpool at 88.8%, followed by Queen Mary, University of London at 88.7%.

Among these top universities outside of England, 85.9% of Cardiff's 2015/16 entrants were from state schools and colleges, along with 69.7% of those starting at Edinburgh, 84.6% of those going to Glasgow and 98.4% of those at Queen's University Belfast.

The HESA's figures on students from "low participation neighbourhoods" show that Sunderland University has the highest proportion of entrants from this group at 29.7%. In comparison, 3% of University College London's entrants in 2015/16 were from these neighbourhoods, along with 3.1% of those at Cambridge. This excludes specialist colleges.

A Russell Group spokesman said: "Collectively, Russell Group universities have outperformed the sector as a whole in increasing the percentage of students from state school backgrounds but there is more that needs to be done.

"This is why Russell Group universities in England alone will this year invest £254 million in scholarships, fee waivers, bursaries and outreach activities aimed at the most disadvantaged to help those with the ability to attend.

"We recently launched Advancing Access, an online platform that provides a wide range of vital resources for teachers to help them give talented pupils the support and encouragement they need to apply to a leading university.

"We are committed to ensuring that students who would benefit from an education at one of our institutions have the best possible opportunity to do so, regardless of their background."

Dr Samina Khan, director of undergraduate admissions and outreach at Oxford University, said: "Figures released last month by Ucas show that our offer rates for students from low-participation areas are outperforming the rates that would be expected given predicted grades and subject choice.

"We are also expecting to increase our proportion of state school students for 2016 entry, having made more than 59% of offers to state-educated applicants in this cycle."

A Cambridge University spokesman said: "We use a contextual data flagging system to ensure that the achievements of students from disadvantaged backgrounds are assessed in their full context and that students with great academic potential are identified.

"Widening participation further will require Government, schools, universities, charities, parents and students to work closely together.

"We will continue to work hard with all parties to raise aspirations among disadvantaged groups and to improve their access to Cambridge and higher education in general."

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: "These figures are further worrying evidence of the substantial access gaps that still exist at our universities, especially at our top universities.

"It is vital to improve access if we are to improve social mobility. Schools, colleges and universities all have a crucial role to play.

"And it is particularly important that we retain a strong access regulator, accountable to MPs, and get better evidence to ensure that outreach funds are well spent."

Universities Minister Jo Johnson said: "With record high proportion of young people from state schools entering university, these statistics show that more students are being given the opportunity to reach their full potential, regardless of their background.

"But they also show that there is more to do at some universities, where there are still too few students progressing from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

"That is why our reforms to higher education, including the introduction of the Office for Students and the Teaching Excellence Framework, are putting access and support for students at the heart of the system."

A University College London (UCL) spokesman said: " Ucas's data release in June showed that UCL does not discriminate in the admissions process. Those who apply to UCL from POLAR1 postcodes receive an offer for admission at the rate that Ucas expect to see in a fair process.

"We know that we have more work to do to increase our intake from POLAR1 groups and we invest in this.

"UCL currently spends in excess of £3 million each year on outreach activity to encourage those from groups (including POLAR1 students) underrepresented within higher education to achieve and progress."

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