Response to Sutton Trust report 'Primed for Success?'

21 May 2008

Director General of the Russell Group, Dr Wendy Piatt, said:

“We are very concerned by the Sutton Trust report’s findings that many pupils – particularly those from lower social backgrounds - do not receive adequate information, advice and guidance at school about higher education. We are alarmed by increasing evidence that some teachers may not be encouraging some of their students to consider Russell Group universities. It is crucial that pupils are given accurate information, advice and guidance when making choices which will affect their life chances. It is particularly important that pupils from families who haven’t been to university, or who have less knowledge about higher education than others are given robust support and guidance at school. Indeed, the Sutton Trust found that young people from poorer backgrounds were significantly less likely to recognise differences between universities than their better off peers. As this report rightly points out, candidates should be told that they will enjoy higher salaries if they graduate from "prestigious universities”, such as Russell Group institutions. Going to a prestigious university gives graduates a salary ‘top-up’ of approx 6% - 10% depending on the course and approximately £3000 per year more for entry-level graduate jobs. Our universities also have the highest international graduate recruitment scores across the UK.

“Russell Group Universities themselves are making concerted efforts to ensure that teachers, parents and pupils receive the better information, guidance and encouragement to apply to our universities. Our universities publicise their admissions policies on their websites, UCAS entry profiles, in prospectuses and, in some cases, through podcasts and videos online.

“We encourage our students to volunteer in schools both to spread information and to improve educational achievement, which we know is the key reason for the under-representation of working class students in our universities – a point which the report helpfully acknowledges.

We organise mentoring schemes, summer schools and have extensive links with schools and FE colleges. We have now also decided to hold special Russell Group conferences to inform teachers and advisors about all aspects of applying to Russell Group universities.

“As the report acknowledges, our universities ‘offer a range of outreach services, and state schools should be encouraged to make more use of these.’ It is in all our interests to ensure we are giving the brightest candidates from all backgrounds the opportunity to flourish on our courses and to go to the best university for them.”

Notes to Editors

  1. Of the top 10 employer reviews of universities internationally, 5 were Russell Group universities. QS-Times Higher Education (2007) "Top 10 Employer Reviews", World University Rankings.
  2. Funding devoted by Russell Group universities to outreach programmes has grown by nearly £5m since 2006 – a commitment of over £100,000 more than the sector average per institution. This is in addition to the very large sums already committed to outreach from existing budgets. The University of Oxford, for example, spends over £1.8 million on outreach activities, and the University of Cambridge spends some £3 million on activities aimed at widening participation and access.
  3. Russell Group universities currently employ well over 100 (full-time equivalent) widening participation staff and offer around 600,000 diverse opportunities annually for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Much of this resource is devoted to inspiring and informing students – from young children to mature learners – about higher education, encouraging those at school to continue their studies post-16 and facilitating their entry to a course at our universities.

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