Disadvantaged applicants less likely to achieve Firsts

University data suggests undergraduates flagged at application are 25 per cent less likely to get First class degrees and more likely to withdraw

Students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to be awarded first class degrees than their peers, Oxford University data has revealed.

The statistics show that 22.9 per cent of undergraduates from underrepresented backgrounds received a First, compared to 30.3 per cent of their course mates.

The figures, obtained by Cherwell via Freedom of Information requests, compare degree classes for flagged and non-flagged students at the university.

Flags are given to undergraduates who meet a number of criteria including living in a deprived postcode, coming from a school which sends few pupils to Oxbridge or having lived in care.

The investigation also found that flagged students are more likely to withdraw from their studies or take longer to complete their course.

Only 76.2 per cent of flagged students had completed their degree by the time statistics were obtained by Cherwell, compared to 82.3 per cent of non-flagged students.

The findings, taken from data about undergraduates admitted between 2010 and 2013, mirror the “gender gap” which exists in degree results at the University. However, these statistics are the first to identify an association between degree outcome and socioeconomic background.

Eden Bailey, VP for Access and Academic Affairs told Cherwell, “Oxford has a serious problem with attainment gaps. A working group is already well in progress to tackle the gender and race attainment gaps, and at OUSU we’re glad the central University is acknowledging the present situation, which is unacceptable.

“It’s really important that ‘access’ work doesn’t just stop at admissions, but the University is doing everything they can be to ensure that all students have access to educational opportunities, and filling their full academic potential, regardless of their background, identity, or circumstance.

“I am very conscious that OUSU doesn’t have a liberation campaign relating to class or socioeconomic disadvantage, and would love to hear from students who would be interested in this.”

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In response to the findings, a university spokesperson commented, “Oxford and its colleges offer highly personalised academic and financial support to students, and students with contextual flags at Oxford still have drop-out rates that are among the lowest in the sector, and do extremely well in achieving top degrees. The university will continue to work to ensure all students are well supported in their studies academically, personally and financially.”

The spokesperson added that Oxford was not alone in facing this type of problem and that it may be too early to draw conclusions given the sample size. They highlighted that the distribution of Firsts may also be affected by degree programme choices and other factors.

Previous studies have suggested that the comparatively lower success rate of Oxford students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds is not reflected nationally. A report by the student think-tank OxPolicy into the effect of socioeconomic background on degree outcome found that “at no Higher Education Institution did under-represented students perform worse than their peers.”