Universities ‘not fair’ on poor - Clegg

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SHEFFIELD Hallam MP Nick Clegg is set to launch an attack today on top universities as ‘instruments of social segregation’ - ordering them to stop taking so many middle class students.

The Deputy Prime Minister is to insist leading institutions like The University of Sheffield ‘throw open their doors’ to the less well-off.

Universities that want to charge tuition fees of £6,000 or more will be forced to sign up to ‘access agreements’, ensuring they admit more students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Mr Clegg is expected to set out the new system today, confirming universities will be allowed to draw up their own methods of broadening their intake.

But critics fear teenagers from comprehensives will increasingly be given more easily-achievable A-level offers than candidates from fee-paying schools.

The Deputy PM’s move will also be seen as a bid to claw back favour for the Lib Dems, who have seen their support crash after they backed moves to treble tuition fees despite pledging at the election to oppose them.

Mr Clegg, who was educated at the exclusive fee-paying Westminster public school and then at Cambridge University, insists there is clear evidence of unfair bias towards better-off students.

He says although people from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to go to university now than they used to be, 57 per cent of young people from advantaged areas go on to higher education compared to just 19 per cent from poorer areas.

And he adds that although 18 per cent of children are disadvantaged enough to receive free school meals, Oxbridge’s intake is less than one per cent. The less well-off also tend to get in to less selective universities.

Over the past 15 years, the participation rate of young people from the most disadvantaged areas in the most selective third of universities has remained flat at under three per cent, Mr Clegg says.

A Liberal Democrat spokesman said: “Universities should be the greatest agent of social mobility we have in this country, but too often they are serving as instruments of social segregation.”