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No Room at the Top

Neil O’Brien OBE MP
June 9, 2020
No Room at the Top

This morning, Onward publishes a new research note, No Room at the Top, which finds that the dramatic growth of overseas students at the UK’s top universities has pushed down the number of students from the UK.

Read the research here

Among the key findings of the report:

  • The number of state school pupils admitted to Oxford and Cambridge has not increased for 20 years. Admissions from state schools peaked in 2002, when 3,343 state school pupils were admitted. In 2018, just 3,166 were admitted. Between 2002 and 2018 the number of UK state school pupils admitted fell 5% while the number of UK independent school pupils fell 23%.
  • The proportion of students admitted to Oxbridge from the UK has declined from 88% in 2008 to 78% in 2018. The number of 18 year olds in the UK set to grow by a fifth between 2018 and 2030. This means that if numbers of state school pupils continue to flatline, their odds of getting into Oxbridge will decline.
  • High entry requirement universities in England have grown their numbers of overseas students rather than the number of UK students. Between 2014/15 and 2018/19 the dozen highest entry requirement universities in England added 4,895 more first year undergraduates from outside the UK, but only 350 from the UK: a 35% increase and a 1% increase respectively. 
  • At the dozen universities in England with the highest entry requirements, the proportion of overseas students rose from 27% to 33% between 2014/15 and 2018/19.  Looking at UK universities as a whole it rose far less, from 17% to 19%.

Report author Neil O’Brien MP said:

“The dramatic growth of lucrative overseas students has crowded out British students at many of our top universities. The revenues from overseas students have been very important for universities, but there has been a price paid by UK students. As the government looks at the future of universities, it should consider whether we want to keep going in the same direction. With the number of overseas students dramatically reduced because of coronavirus, this could be a moment to reset our approach.”

“Media reports about Oxbridge admissions have generally concentrated on the proportion of UK students who are from state schools. But that measure, which is rising, gives a misleading picture of how likely state school pupils are to actually gain a place. In fact the chance of going to Oxford or Cambridge has flatlined at best for decades. Unless something changes, state school pupils’ chances of going are actually set to fall as the number of 18 year olds is set to increase by a fifth.”

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