Socio-economic disadvantage undermines university attainment
People from poorer backgrounds are less likely to go to university and less likely to get a good degree than those from wealthier backgrounds. School-leavers from the most disadvantaged 20% of the population are 37% less likely to go to university than those from the most advantaged 20%. The difference in university attendance can be almost entirely explained by differences in GCSE results. However, the difference in university outcomes cannot. Poorer students are less likely to graduate, and less likely to achieve the highest degree classes, than wealthier students with similar school results. These differences are likely to be due to multiple factors related to economic inequality, such as individual or family health issues. Students from the most disadvantaged 20% are 5% less likely to complete their degree, and 4% less likely to achieve a 2:1 or better, than students from the most advantaged 20%, even after controlling for prior attainment and other factors.
Poorer graduates are less likely to get into the universities that do the best job of reducing the disadvantage gap
Different types of university have very different intakes; there are higher proportions of disadvantaged students at less selective universities. More selective universities give students the best chance of earning high incomes, and are the most effective at closing the ‘class pay gap’, but they are also less effective at widening access for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The universities with the best access rates for poorer students have the worst labour market outcomes, and vice versa. As a result, students eligible for free school meals are 100 times less likely to go to Oxford or Cambridge universities than students from private schools.