Exeter’s private school proportion growing
Print News Editor Chloe Pumares and Print Editor Bryony Gooch report on the growing proportion of private school students at the University of Exeter and what is being done to widen participation and outreach.
WITH a third of the student intake for the past five years being privately educated, the University of Exeter’s proportion of private school students is increasing, while other Russell Group competitors are closing the gap between private and state school attendance.
Using data accessed via the Freedom of Information Act and the Higher Education Statistics Agency, Exeposé compared Exeter’s state and private school intake with a sample of competitors.
While Durham and Oxford had higher proportional intakes of private school students, both universities had a decreasing trend across the past five years.
Birmingham’s private school intake averages 18.6 per cent, far lower than others in the Russell Group. However, it has seen a slight increase in the past two academic years.
Meanwhile, Cambridge saw an eight per cent decrease in private school intake over the past five years.
Exeposé also compared the University’s private school cohort with other universities in the South West across the past five years, finding that Exeter had the highest proportion of privately educated students.
The University of Bristol, another Russell Group competitor in the South West, has seen a radical decrease in the proportion of private school students over the past five years. In the 2015/16 academic year, 37.9 per cent of Bristol’s student intake was privately educated. As of 2019/20, Bristol’s private school student intake has reduced to 28.5 per cent.
The University of Bath saw an increase in private school intake in the past year, but over the past five years they have accepted a quarter on average.
However, Bristol, Bath and Exeter are contrasted with Plymouth and Falmouth who have a consistently low proportion of private school students. Over the past five year, they respectively have a mean average of 5.7 and 6.6 per cent.
In 2019, the Sutton Trust and Social Mobility Commission reported that only 7 per cent of the British population attend private school, although they make up 39 per cent of those in top positions.
it’s a problem all over the UK, but I think particularly at Exeter you can see it in the statistics that state school students are massively underrepresented.93% Club
Exeposé spoke to Exeter’s 93% Club to gain their insight. Their aim is to “improve the experience of state school students at university” and create “a space where anyone can feel welcome”. The Club was first founded in 2016 at the University of Bristol by Sophie Pender and has since expanded to 30 universities, with Exeter joining last August. Since 2015/16, Bristol’s intake of private school students has fallen by 9.4 per cent.
Speaking to committee members about their experiences at Exeter and why they thought it was important, it became clear that there is a divide between state and private school students, with a need to increase the intake of state school students. Ani, the founder of Exeter’s 93% club and its current President explained: “it’s a problem all over the UK, but I think particularly at Exeter you can see it in the statistics that state school students are massively underrepresented.”
Luca, the society’s treasurer, discussed his experience as a state school student. Despite knowing Exeter had a reputation for having a disproportionate number of private school students he felt “on the backfoot” when asked what school he went to – it was often used as “a means of starting a conversation with someone”.
Vice President of Publicity and Communications, Sophie, also opened up about her experience, saying that she was unaware of the University’s reputation and just saw one she liked. When she started, she “didn’t realise there would be a separation in lots of circumstances, not only in learning and seminars but in accommodation. I would pick up on conversations and see that there were differences between the people I lived with simply because of the schools we went to.” Both Luca and Sophie acknowledged that it’s not a “malicious divide” but there is “this difference that we need to be more aware of”.
Cara, who is one of two Access and Outreach officers, spoke about the work they are doing to “bridge the gap”. She notes how the “feeder system is incredibly linear, and there is linear progression of certain areas of the country into Exeter”. She is hoping that the 93% Club can work with the University to change that, describing a “really positive reception” from them.
A University of Exeter spokesperson said: “We are already doing a great deal to widen access and increase the number of state school students at the University of Exeter including school partnerships, fair access programmes like Exeter Scholars, extensive outreach including Discover University our digital engagement platform, work through our Exeter Student Ambassador Scheme, and a wide range of student recruitment activities. While we have improved access for under-represented students, we haven’t yet seen a similar uplift in the proportion of state sector students.
“We recognise that a variety of factors affect recruitment from state schools and colleges, such as entry requirements, our recruitment catchment area, and range of degree programmes. We recognise there is much more to do and we are taking advantage of national research and expertise within our own Centre for Social Mobility to inform next steps. The University has very recently set up an expert task and finish group on state sector recruitment which will consult with student groups and report to the University’s Governing Council in April.”
Ruby Jones, VP Welfare & Diversity, told Exeposé: ‘We’re committed to supporting students from a range of different backgrounds and helping them to make the most out of their time at Exeter; we would love to support and see more students from underrepresented backgrounds in the future.
“Our Advice Service is available to support students with a range of issues including accommodation and finances, as well as provide additional support and schemes for students from a widening participation background. We’re also proud to support student initiatives such as the 93% Club, who do incredible work to improve the experiences of state-educated students.”