It seems that everyone is circling around the problem and avoiding getting onto the ground and making changes.
This week the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) published a ranking of all UK universities according to the distribution of its student intake from different areas of the UK with varying historical rates of participation higher education . It was reported in Times Higher Education as “Elite university intakes ‘as imbalanced as poor nations on income” . On the face of it, this looks like a fair way to inform everyone that there is a wide variation between our universities with regard to social inclusion. However, a closer look reveals an inherent ‘circular logic’ in the methodology. This is tied up with radical changes in how such statistics have been gathered in recent years. The data used to make the rankings comes from those of the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) . It looks at one parameter only and makes a comparison to generate a university ranking against a score from 0 to 1.0 with the higher score indicating a greater social inclusion ‘imbalance’. It comes as no surprise that Oxford and Cambridge and other ‘Russell Group’ universities get higher scores. This predilection toward ‘ranking’ is dangerous when it has the capacity to impact negatively upon individuals in need of help. I will argue below that asking universities to address these imbalances based upon post codes, that are linked to larger neighbourhoods associated with low participation in higher education, is a false demand that is a potentially damaging challenge. The roots of low social mobility go much deeper into our communities than any university, elite or otherwise, can be expected to address. The answer to improving social mobility is not to be found in any university ‘gaming’ the rankings. It is to be found in the individual. The more recent methods 'fly high' over a social map of the UK and look at areas rather than individuals. Remember they can see government up there but government may not see them as individuals. Focus help on individuals and social mobility will take care of itself.
By contrast, many pupils lacked very basic needs whilst others were much better off than I was. This council ward in Coventry qualified as POLAR 3 Quintile 2 and is illustrated in Figure 1.
Little has changed apart from the boundary. This shift in boundaries is likely to cause such effects in other cases and illustrates the danger in relying on POLAR classifications on their own in comparisons year on year.