Universities to partner schools in participation drive

The government today encouraged more universities to work with schools in a bid to widen participation in higher education.

A number of universities have already sponsored academies or agreed to partner new trust schools but universities secretary John Denham today launched a new drive to increase participation.

Speaking at University College London, Mr Denham said closer working relationships between universities and schools could benefit both institutions.

He warned reluctant universities the “prizes of success” in an increasingly competitive environment would go to the universities working hardest to widen participation.

Mr Denham said success should be determined by talent and hard work, rather than where someone went to school.

He said: “It is clear that the universities that recruit the vast majority of students from a small minority of society are missing out on a huge amount of talent.

“However, I also understand that universities cannot offer places to those students who don’t apply or those who are not sufficiently equipped to succeed.”

Mr Denham continued: “Widening participation in higher education should be seen as talent spotting by universities. This prospectus sets out how we want them to make that happen.”

More than 20 universities have already agreed to sponsor academies, with 13 also working with trust schools.

Universities are being encouraged to sponsor or co-sponsor academies and, as an incentive, the government has said they will not need to provide the normal £2 million sponsorship fee.

Appearing alongside schools minister Lord Adonis, Mr Denham said involvement from universities can raise aspirations, improve standards and help people apply to higher education.

Lord Adonis said: “If universities get involved early on in school life, children from deprived communities become familiar with higher education and feel they belong there.

“For parents and students in these schools, going to university is a natural step up the same educational ladder, not a leap into the dark. It is at an early age that low aspirations commonly become ingrained in pupils.”

The Liberal Democrats welcomed the sentiment but said the partnerships would only go part of the way to increasing participation among working class students.

Higher education spokeswoman Sarah Teather said the government needed to help students get better results, not just raise their aspirations.

She said: “The divisive gap in educational achievement begins long before secondary school.

“Unless this scandalous inequality is tackled, pairing up universities with schools will only serve to highlight what children from poorer backgrounds are missing out on.”