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Low-income Families

Volume 467: debated on Thursday 15 November 2007

9. What recent submissions he has received on the number of students from low-income families in higher education. (164261)

The submissions that I have received tell me that there has been a steady increase in the number of young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds entering higher education. The proportion of young people from the bottom four socio-economic groups entering higher education increased from 17.6 per cent. to 19.9 per cent. between 2002-03 and 2005-06. The new package of financial support that I announced in July will help to remove any financial barriers to going to university, but we also expect universities to become more active in helping to spot and nurture talent in schools at an earlier age, which is why Lord Adonis and I published a prospectus on encouraging university, trust and academy links.

Distribution of educational quality at primary and secondary levels along class lines lies at the heart of a situation in which the 7 per cent. of those who are privately educated bag 40 per cent. of the places at the top 20 universities. That is not only a national scandal, but damages economic competitiveness and impedes social mobility. Despite what the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph might say, will the Secretary of State try even harder to get a broader spread of people into higher education, especially into the Russell group, which has such a chronic and dismal record in that regard?

I assure my hon. Friend that we shall continue to work with universities to ensure that they operate fair admissions procedures, unlike the Opposition, who recently announced that they would abolish the Office for Fair Access. My hon. Friend pointed out that educational disadvantage can happen at an earlier age. We want to get more universities engaging deeply with schools so that young people as young as 12, 13 or 14 are identified and encouraged to apply to all universities. That is why we are so keen to see universities working with schools to establish trusts and academies.