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How fair is access to more prestigious UK Universities?

Boliver, V.

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Now that most UK universities have increased their tuition fees to £9,000 a year and are implementing new Access Agreements as required by the Office for Fair Access, it has never been more important to examine the extent of fair access to UK higher education and to more prestigious UK universities in particular. This paper uses Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) data for the period 1996 to 2006 to explore the extent of fair access to prestigious Russell Group universities, where ‘fair’ is taken to mean equal rates of making applications to and receiving offers of admission from these universities on the part of those who are equally qualified to enter them. The empirical findings show that access to Russell Group universities is far from fair in this sense and that little changed following the introduction of tuition fees in 1998 and their initial increase to £3,000 a year in 2006. Throughout this period, UCAS applicants from lower class backgrounds and from state schools remained much less likely to apply to Russell Group universities than their comparably qualified counterparts from higher class backgrounds and private schools, while Russell Group applicants from state schools and from Black and Asian ethnic backgrounds remained much less likely to receive offers of admission from Russell Group universities in comparison with their equivalently qualified peers from private schools and the White ethnic group.


Boliver, V. (2013). How fair is access to more prestigious UK Universities?. British Journal of Sociology, 64(2), 344-364.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Jun 1, 2013
Deposit Date Mar 26, 2012
Publicly Available Date Apr 9, 2014
Journal British Journal of Sociology
Print ISSN 0007-1315
Electronic ISSN 1468-4446
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 64
Issue 2
Pages 344-364
Keywords Fair access, Higher education, Russell Group universities, Tuition fees.


Accepted Journal Article (427 Kb)

Copyright Statement
This is the accepted version of the following article: Boliver, V. (2013), How fair is access to more prestigious UK universities?. The British Journal of Sociology, 64: 344–364, which has been published in final form at

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