Should Oxbridge open new colleges to reduce inequality?

Think tank says that expanding intake would increase proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds

The universities of Oxford and Cambridge should open new colleges to attract more students from disadvantaged backgrounds, according to an education think tank.

A new manifesto, published by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) in conjunction with mentoring charity Brightside, argues that expanding the number of places at top universities is critical to widen access to include a more representative student body.

“In recent decades, other institutions have expanded their undergraduate numbers far more than the two Oxbridge institutions have done,” the paper says.

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“If existing colleges are reluctant to increase their undergraduate entry, then it is time to consider founding a number of entirely new Oxbridge colleges.”

Entry to the highly selective universities is fiercely competitive, which some have claimed discourages working class students from applying and unfairly favours applicants with access to private tutoring or interview training.

“The two institutions have faced criticism in the past over access, with some critics arguing that they could do more to boost the numbers of disadvantaged students applying for, and taking up, places,” says the Times Educational Supplement.

However, both institutions say they have no plans to open new colleges.

Cambridge has not established a new college since the creation of Robinson College in 1977, while Oxford’s youngest undergraduate college, St Catherine’s, opened its doors in 1963.

The report, which draws on insights from MPs, academics, students and other think tanks, also recommends that “helping white, working-class boys in England to go on to higher education should be a top priority for policymakers” says The Guardian. The group is the most underrepresented demographic at universities in England.

Hepi’s recommendations will be sent to Chris Millward, director for fair access and participation at the Office for Students, a newly-established independent regulator for higher education.

In a statement, Millward said that progress had been made, but acknowledged that “there are still wide gaps” in access and participation, particularly “for mature students, for white males from the lowest income groups, and at the universities with the highest admissions requirements”.

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