Sunderland University helps give less well-off a chance

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SUNDERLAND University has welcomed calls for professions such as law, journalism and medicine to do more to widen their intake.

Ex-Labour minister Alan Milburn called for a “bigger drive” to open careers to young people from poorer backgrounds.

Publishing a “progress report” on the issue, he said internship schemes were a “lottery” and no profession had “cracked” widening recruitment.

His calls come as the Echo, in partnership with the University of Sunderland, continues its Degrees of Success campaign, aiming to get more Wearside students into university.

In 2010, the former health secretary was tasked by the Coalition with looking at the state of social mobility, having performed a similar role for Labour under Gordon Brown.

This came amid concerns that entrants to the professions were coming from an increasingly narrow social group.

Mr Milburn, who stood down as an MP at the last election, said: “There’s a series of barriers that, maybe inadvertently, the professions put in the way of those with ability and aptitude from a variety of backgrounds getting even the first foot on the ladder into the professions.

“It’s partially about how they provide work experience opportunities, internships, their recruitment processes, where they recruit from.”

Assessing progress on recommendations made in 2009, Mr Milburn said a best practice code for internships had been drawn up, but little had been done to help students from poorer backgrounds afford to take up such opportunities and professions had not reviewed their own practices.

A spokesperson for the University of Sunderland said: “We welcome the findings in Mr Milburn’s ‘progress report’ and support any measures which widen opportunities for graduates at all universities.

“The report also highlights how important our role as an institution is in continuing to deliver a wide range of activity to raise aspirations and provide opportunities for students with talent and potential, regardless of background, to progress to higher education.

“Thanks to the Degrees of Success campaign we are reinforcing the importance of higher education which has led to thousands of hard-to-reach people entering higher education and having a truly life-changing experience at the University of Sunderland, with many going on to work at some of the UK’s most successful companies.”

Overall, the report concluded no profession had “cracked the fair access problem” and “all too often the reality is that the fair access agenda remains sidelined in most professions”.

Despite the weakness of the economy, Mr Milburn said employment in the professions was increasing and there was a “prospective dividend” for the country if policies were got right.

Mr Clegg, who has acknowledged he benefited himself from family contacts early in his career, said social mobility was a “complex” issue and could not be improved overnight.

But he added: “Progress has not been fast enough and in some industries the issues are still not taken seriously.

“There needs to be a step change in professions like medicine, journalism and politics.”

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