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Lies, damned lies, and statistics on widening access to Russell Group universities.

Boliver, V. (2015) 'Lies, damned lies, and statistics on widening access to Russell Group universities.', Radical statistics., 113 . pp. 29-38.


This article reports on a forensic examination of the statistical evidence presented in a recent Russell Group report entitled Opening Doors which claims that “real progress has been made over the last few years” in relation to widening access at Russell Group universities (Russell Group 2015: 4). I show that several key statistics presented in Opening Doors are highly misleading. First, seemingly large improvements in access to Russell Group universities for students from free-school-meal backgrounds are shown to rest on the dubious practice of calculating a percentage increase from a very low base. Secondly, large apparent increases in access for those from state schools and colleges rely on the selective use of an unrepresentative base year. Third, the representation of those from lower social class origins is presented in a positive light without any mention of the fact that the figure had been static for around a decade and that it compares unfavourably to the wider HE sector and UK population. Fourth, apparently encouraging statistics relating to students from low HE participation neighbourhoods are presented, but these concern applicants rather than entrants, and to all UK universities not just Russell Group ones. This article also highlights the failure of Opening Doors to acknowledge a growing body of statistical research evidence which indicates that one important barrier to widening access at Russell Group universities is that applicants from less advantaged social backgrounds are less likely to be offered places at these universities than comparably qualified applicants from more advantaged social groups. These studies receive no acknowledgement in the Russell Group publication despite being published in peer-reviewed academic journals by researchers working at Russell Group institutions.

Item Type:Article
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Date accepted:04 February 2016
Date deposited:23 March 2016
Date of first online publication:2015
Date first made open access:No date available

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