Schools 'should encourage pupils to move away for university'

By Charlotte Santry

Damian Hinds called for more students to live at home - but Sutton Trust says travelling further to university can boost social mobility 

State school pupils are nearly three times more likely than their private school counterparts to stay at home and study locally after taking their A levels, a study shows.

The findings, by the Sutton Trust, follow a call from education secretary Damian Hinds for more universities to offer "commuter courses", where students stay at home to cut costs, as part of plans to improve value-for-money in higher education courses.

But moving away for university can play an important role in helping students to climb the social ladder, today's report suggests.

"In the modern economy, it is often those who are most mobile who are most likely to find success. Moving away to university can be an important first step," states Home and Away: social, ethnic and spatial inequalities in student mobility.

It adds: "Moving to London, or other large cities in the UK, can be an ‘escalator’ for social mobility. But too often, the opportunity to move away to attend university is restricted to those from better-off homes."

The charity wants schools to offer more reassurance to pupils who may be worried about moving away for university.

Conor Ryan, director of research, told Tes: "Schools should encourage their students to take part in outreach activities, open days and summer schools. These activities can help to reassure students – and their parents – about travelling by offering more opportunities for them to visit those universities."

'Widen university outreach to schools'

The report also calls on universities to work more with schools in "peripheral" – geographically and economically remote – areas, instead of just focusing on those based in deprived communities in London.

It says: "There is a notable lack of provision of university outreach in peripheral areas in stark contrast to working-class schools and colleges in London, which often receive high levels of engagement."

The charity also finds that some ethnic minority pupils may be avoiding moving to areas where few people share their cultural backgrounds and where they feel less "safe".

The report says: "If this is the case, intolerance in wider society could be acting to narrow and limit the higher education decision-making of some young people from ethnic minority backgrounds.

"More work needs to be done to address intolerance in wider society, and make places accepting and welcoming for all groups."

 Some pupils' decisions to stay at home may also be down to social norms, it states.

Many Russell Group universities take a high proportion of students who have moved relatively far away from home, compared with newer universities, the paper notes. 

For example, more than two-thirds of students at the post-1992 university Sheffield Hallam have come from homes that are less than 91km away, yet this figure is just 40 per cent at its Russell Group neighbour, the University of Sheffield. 

Figures released in January showed that students from the most disadvantaged fifth of areas in the UK accounted for just 6.2 per cent of the Russell Group intake in 2017.