Oxford has made slow progress in boosting the number of state educated students it takes on despite large Government spending and campaigns by the University, figures show.
Performance figures for 2006-7 released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), show that the proportion of state educated students at Oxford, Cambridge, and Bristol and several other universities actually decreased.
In 2006, Oxford had 53% state educated students, with Cambridge having 57.6%. The figures fall well below Government-set benchmarks of 76.7% and 77.4% respectively.
The disappointing figures come despite the Government spending large sums on schemes dedicated to widening university access to those from poorer backgrounds.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “Over the past decade, in England alone, nearly £3 billion has been spent on measures to widen social class participation in higher education.
“We welcome the priority that has been given to this area. But there has been little progress, despite a lot of hard work by universities to attract and retain a wider range of students.
“The bottom line is that the punitive cost of higher education is putting the very students who the Government wishes to attract off applying.”
Oxford also has many access schemes in place, and recently launched an ambitious funding campaign to ensure students from poorer backgrounds are not deterred from applying.
A spokeswoman for Oxford University told the BBC: “For our part, we are doing our utmost to encourage academic ambition from a young age by working with students from 11 up, and by working closely with parents and teachers.
“One element of the picture is making sure that those who do study at Oxford from all groups, especially under-represented groups, are well supported and reach their potential.
“One of the lowest drop-out rates in the country indicates that our efforts in this respect are bearing fruit.”
The period for which the HESA figures have been released coincides with the introduction of top-up fees of £3,000.
Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell emphasised overall figures for UK universities showed that the proportion of students from state schools had increased.
“It is particularly encouraging to see that the proportion of young entrants from the lower socio-economic groups and from state schools has continued to rise and is in fact at their highest ever levels,” he said.
For 2006-7, the proportion of state educated students at university increased from 87.9% to 88.3%.
Both Oxford and Cambridge stress they are doing all they can to widen access. In their defence, some dons have attacked the Government’s targets as unrealistic due to the way in which they are calculated.
They also cite inequalities at early stages of schooling and in teacher’s attitudes towards encouraging students to apply to prestigious universities.
The figures also show that overall nearly a quarter of undergraduates fail to complete their degree, despite the Government spending large amounts on improving retention. At Bolton University, the drop-out rate has reached almost half.
Oxford has one of the lowest drop-out rates in the country, at 1.2% for 2006-7.