Les Ebdon, the access ombudsman for higher education in England, has told universities and colleges to step up their efforts to attract students from disadvantaged backgrounds, as official statistics show affluent applicants outnumbering those from deprived areas by three to one, writes Richard Adams for the Guardian.
Ebdon described as a tragedy the recent sharp fall in enrolments by part-time students, because worsening participation rates for part-time and mature students suggests alternative routes into higher education are shrinking.
"While there´s been an 80% increase in participation from the lowest participation groups, you´re still eight times more likely to end up at a selective university if you come from the most advantaged 20% than if you come from the most disadvantaged 20%. So there´s still work to be done," said Ebdon.
About 34,000 students – one in 10 of the 2012-13 entry – received the means-based scholarship aimed at those from poorer households, but the popularity of the scheme and the number of eligible students led many institutions to restrict access to the funds even further.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: "Universities know their students best. Each has its own mission and priorities. It is right that they should tailor their approach to suit their own particular circumstances and those of their students within the national guidelines."