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Top universities must do more to tackle inequality or face sanctions, OfS suggests

TOP British universities could face sanctions if they don’t do more to improve access for disadvantaged students, the Office for Students (OfS) warned yesterday.

There remains gaps in “equality of opportunity,” particularly in the nation’s most selective institutions, according to the OfS.

Universities in England recruited twice as many students from the most advantaged backgrounds compared to the most disadvantaged in the academic year of 2017/18, the regulator said.

The difference rose to five times as many advantaged students compared to disadvantaged students among the most selective universities.

The OfS call followed the publication of access agreements by universities with high entry requirements, which sets out how an institution intends to tackle inequality.

Any university or college wanting to charge more than £6,000 a year in fees — up to the maximum of £9,250, must have an agreement approved by the OfS.

The OfS threatened to withdraw its approval for an agreement on tuition fees if it feels that a university has lacked progress in this area.

OfS director for fair access and participation Chris Millward said: “We are still a long way from equality of opportunity in our universities, and gaps remain particularly wide at the most selective universities.

“Through their plans, we expect universities and colleges to address these issues at all parts of the student lifecycle — including admissions, attainment and successful progression beyond higher education.

“We will be scrutinising the progress universities make and will intervene where progress is not sufficient.”

Representing 24 leading British universities, Russell Group director of policy Sarah Stevens argued that its “ambitious plans” demonstrated its commitment to tackle inequality across the education system.

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