State school pupils miss out on places at Durham and Newcastle universities

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STATE school pupils are still struggling to gain places at leading universities – a new report has shown.

The latest figures show both Durham and Newcastle universities have seen a fall in the number of students from state schools taking up places.

From 2002 to 2011, the proportion going to Durham University fell from 68.4 per cent to 59.2 per cent, which is the lowest for any university outside Cambridge and Oxford.

But, the university says huge efforts have been made to increase the number of state school pupils, and it is confident the next set of figures will show improvements.

The report by the Government’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission highlighted the failure of leading universities to become more representative of the population.

The commission studied progress of the Russell Group – the country’s leading 24 institutions – in being open to everyone, regardless of social background.

Professor Tom Ward, Durham University’s pro-vice chancellor, said: “Durham University aims to select the brightest and best students on the basis of their merit and potential, irrespective of background.

“The figures highlighted by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission’s report appear to show a downward trend for widening access at Durham University. This is not the case.

“We are confident that the next round of figures from the Higher Education Statistics Authority, due to be published next March, will show some improvement in this key statistic.

“It does take time for all the hard work and investment put into this area to realise benefits and we are delighted that these improvements are starting to bear fruit.”

Former Darlington MP Alan Milburn, who chairs the commission, said: “Durham and Newcastle universities have both worked hard to attract more state school and low income youngsters.

“But, these figures show they need to redouble their efforts.”

The report said universities need to set targets for the amount of state school pupils they take and the Government needs to improve the National Scholarship Programme, which provides grants to students from poorer backgrounds.

At Newcastle University, the number of students from state schools fell from 73.8 per cent in 2002 to 69.2 per cent in 2011. Professor Ella Ritchie, deputy vice -chancellor, said the situation cannot be solved by universities alone, as too few state school pupils are getting the right grades in the right subjects and are less likey to apply to leading universities.