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Programme helps disadvantaged students win places at top universities

Over half of more than 2,000 disadvantaged school pupils who have taken part in a programme which aims to raise their higher education aspirations have found places at leading universities.

According to a new report, increasing numbers of disadvantaged pupils are applying to research-intensive universities and gaining places at their preferred institution through the Realising Opportunities programme - a partnership between 15 high-ranking UK universities.

The Newcastle University-led programme was set up in response to the under-representation of bright pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds at research-intensive institutions.

The programme recruits disadvantaged Year 12 pupils with high GCSE grades from targeted schools, who are able to receive online mentoring, attend national conferences and complete online modules and academic essays in order to boost their university study skills.

Those who successfully complete the programme are given offers from the member institutions which are lower than those normally made for courses.

There are 700 pupils currently enrolled on the programme, and another 750 are due to start in 2015.

According to the report, Realising Opportunities: Working Together, Supporting Talent, more than half of pupils who take part in the programme go on to research-intensive universities – compared to only around 3 per cent of disadvantaged young people generally, according to OFFA figures.

The report also shows increasing numbers of applications made by students to all universities which resulted in offers from the institution. In 2012, 61 per cent of students on the programme who made applications received offers, while 77 per cent received offers this year.

In addition, consistently high proportions of pupils received offers from their preferred institution. Since 2012, more than 70 per cent of pupils received a place at their first choice.

The report shows that those taking part in the programme are increasingly likely to study away from home. In 2012, 38 per cent of students on the programme moved away from their home region, and this figure rose to 40 per cent in 2013.

Professor Ella Ritchie OBE, Emeritus Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Newcastle University and Chair of the Realising Opportunities Partnership said: “We know that academically-able students from disadvantaged backgrounds are under-represented in higher education, with less than 3 per cent of the poorest students applying to research-intensive universities. There is a multitude of reasons for this, including lack of information to an assumption that the most selective universities are not for them.

“By offering support and guidance and helping students realise their potential, we are supporting ambition and building confidence amongst the brightest but least represented young people.”


The project is self-funded by the 15 partner institutions:

University of Birmingham

University of Bristol

University of Essex

University of Exeter

Goldsmiths, University of London

King's College London

University of Leeds

University of Leicester

University of Liverpool

University of Manchester

Newcastle University

University of Sheffield

University of Sussex

University of Warwick

University of York