How universities in Birmingham fail to take students from hard-to-reach areas

How universities in Birmingham fail to take students from hard-to-reach areas

The University of Birmingham is failing to take in students from hard-to-reach areas, new figures show.

Data published by the Higher Education Statistics Authority (HESA) shows 5,370 full-time students who started at the university in 2017/18 had their home neighbourhood recorded.

Just 360 came from what are known as “low-participation neighbourhoods” – places where few students have tended to go on to higher education in the past.

It means that one new student in every 15 at The University of Birmingham came from a hard-to-reach area.

Experts said that students in these areas are missing out because “they don’t have access to the same resources as teenagers from more well off families”.

Students are allocated a neighbourhood type on the basis of their postcode.

Graduates, as the gulf between the numbers of rich and poor children winning university places has reached record levels, figures from Ucas show

Low-participation neighbourhoods are those in the lowest 20 per cent of university attendance.

These students are considered to be the most disadvantaged, according to The Sutton Trust, and may be unlikely to go to university for various reasons, including having less access to information, advice and guidance from friends and family with experience of higher education.

Elsewhere in our city, one in every 11 new students at Aston University was from a hard-to-reach area.

At Newman University, on the other hand, one new student in every five was from these areas – though it is worth nothing that the student cohort there is much smaller than at other universities across the city.


Lucy Ball, programme director at The Access Project, a charity that supports bright students from disadvantaged backgrounds to secure places at top universities, said: “Lots of the these young people would flourish at university but they don’t have access to the same resources as teenagers from more well off families – be that private tuition, advice from family or friends who have degrees, or help with filling in application forms. 

“So they are less likely to get high enough grades, don’t know which university or course to choose and if they do try are less likely to make a strong application.

“Disadvantaged teenagers with university potential need a combination of academic support to boost their grades and tailored advice on how to make successful university applications.”


Overall there were were 296,515 full-time students who started at UK universities in 2017/18 whose neighbourhood was recorded.

Just 34,325 of those students – or one in every nine – came from a low-participation neighbourhood.

In 2016 the government issued new guidance for universities to provide transparency on their admissions process.

What the experts say

At the time, the then Universities Minister Jo Johnson said: “We want to see smarter spending from universities, with more outreach into neighbourhoods with low university entry rates and much deeper partnerships with local schools.”

Under the guidance, access agreements were expected to further partnerships with schools to target neighbourhoods with low university participation rates.

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A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “While the equality gap is narrowing, these latest data show that progress is gradual and there is more to be done.

“We want more students from disadvantaged backgrounds going to the most selective universities and institutions should look at the data and their own admissions policies to make sure they are open to everyone who has the potential – no matter their background or where they are from.”

University // Total full-time entrants whose neighbourhood was known // Number from low-participation neighbourhoods // One in every X from low participation neighbourhoods

Aston University // 2720 // 260 // 10.5
Birmingham City University // 4580 // 570 // 8.0
The University of Birmingham // 5370 // 360 // 14.9
University College Birmingham // 405 // 60 // 6.8
Newman University // 490 // 90 // 5.4