Recent research suggesting that Oxford University and other top institutions perform badly when it comes to social mobility has been condemned by the Russell Group Director General.
The research was conducted by CentreForum, an independent, liberal thinktank that aims to develop evidence-based, long-term policy solutions to the problems facing Britain.
The report claims that institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge would do poorly in a league table which ranked universities on the number of students from poorer backgrounds who go on to gain graduate employment.
A social mobility league table released as part of the report put institutions such as Edge Hill University and Huddersfield University near the top, whilst leaving Oxford, Cambridge and St Andrews trailing at the bottom (with Oxford coming in at second from last).
The report, written by Professor Michael Brown, former Vice-Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University, recommends giving all students tuition in presentation skills, IT, and building relationships, as a core part of their degree.
It further suggests that the UK’s top universities are especially in need of this provision.
Professor Brown, who worked with CentreForum, the liberal think-tank with close ties to Nick Clegg, to write the report, said that selective universities, “do not necessarily deliver the best professional graduate outcomes for disadvantaged students”.
However, the report’s findings have been met with derision by Russell Group universities who have suggested that it makes “very strange assumptions” about social mobility.
Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group, has said that the report “fails to recognise that those students from more disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to complete their degree at a Russell Group university than they are at other institutions.”
Indeed, Oxford has one of the lowest drop-out rates in the UK. Figures published in March 2014 by the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that only 1.2% of Oxford students dropped out, compared with the national average of 6.7%.
She further stated that the report focused largely on students who were six months out of their degree, resulting in its marking down of students who had gone on to further or graduate study.
This suggestion was supported by an Oxford University spokesman who told Cherwell, “Thirty per cent of Oxford undergraduates continue their studies after graduation, but these students are given a much lower weighting in this analysis than those who go straight into a job, even “non-professional level work”.
“Ninety-five per cent of all Oxford leavers are in work or further study six months after leaving,” she added.
The spokesman went on to say, “We have carried out our own analysis of the destinations of four years of Oxford undergraduates and found no statistically significant difference between the proportion of leavers in a graduate-level job who are from the most disadvantaged backgrounds and those who are not.”
A second-year Keble student, while agreeing that the report appeared to have some big flaws, went on to suggest consequently that Oxford needed to do more to encourage poorer students into applying to Oxford in the first place.
“The research does seem to have missed out a few of the facts,” he commented.
“However, Oxford could certainly be doing more to encourage students from poorer backgrounds to apply – it turns over £1 billion every year, yet a miniscule proportion of that money goes into access schemes.
“I’d be interested to see if Oxford has fewer poor students going into graduate employment simply because it has fewer poor students in the first place.”