Findings in The Guardian suggest that the University of Sussex is still a bastion of the middle classes.
The data ranked universities in the UK according to the percentage of students’ parents who come from manual occupational backgrounds. The rankings, originally published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), show that only 23.8 percent of students at the University of Sussex are originally from this background.
These statistics were based on the number of young full time first-degree entrants in 2008 to 2009. According to The Guardian, the findings classify students “according to the occupation of their parent who is in the more senior position in the workforce. No data is available for students from families who are long term unemployed, and no data is available for universities in the private sector.”
The table revealed that Oxford University has the lowest proportion of students from working class backgrounds with 11.5 percent, while London Metropolitan University has the greatest proportion, with 57.2 percent. In the UK as a whole, the average of university students from manual occupation backgrounds was 32.3 percent.
The results of the research suggest that there is a correlation between universities with more social diversity and lower results. This is shown in particular by London Metropolitan University as it is the most socially diverse university in the UK, yet ranks at the bottom of the Guardian’s most recent University Guide at number 118.
The University of Sussex, which was ranked in the top 20 in The Guardian University Guide 2010, was among other universities in the UK that had fewer students from working class backgrounds. Sussex has traditionally attracted a middle class following, particularly due to the high influx of students from the South East, the most affluent area in the UK.
The geographical position of Sussex deters many potential students from the North due to the costly price of living and travel expenses. The north-south divide can be seen in the data showing that over 50 percent of students at Bolton University come from working-class backgrounds.
Patrick Dowson, a first-year undergraduate at Bradford University, maintains that “the fact that the physical position is far from home, and the fact that it’s much more expensive to live means it can be off-putting for someone from the north to come to university in the South, especially as far as Sussex.”
He also added that “criticising universities for taking a disproportionate number of students from middle class backgrounds misses the point. There needs to be more effort put into making education prior to university more equal, so everyone can have the best possible chance to achieve their academic potential.”
According to the data, 24.2 percent of students who are of manual occupational backgrounds read historical and philosophical subjects. American Studies, Politics, and Art History all rank in the top three for research in the UK at the University of Sussex, all of which attract fewer students from manual occupational backgrounds according to The Guardian’s rankings.
The University of Sussex said that “of course attracting students from a wide range of backgrounds to Sussex is important and remains a key objective for university staff.”
The number of students from lower socio-economic groups has increased from “16.7 percent in 2007/08 to 23.8 percent in 2008/09. This data shows that the university’s action on widening participation is continuing to make a real difference to its student mix.
“Recruitment and admissions staff at the university have been working with the AimHigher project and partner schools, under Sussex’s Widening Participation strategy, which was launched in 2001.”