Medical student England

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Demand for breakdown of widening access targets

Student leaders want more detailed information about how medical schools have widened access to their courses since £9,000 tuition fees were introduced.

Andrew WilsonAccording to OFFA (Office for Fair Access), universities and colleges have generally responded well to the challenge of improving access to higher education in 2012/13 for those from under-represented groups.

Annual monitoring of access agreements shows universities and colleges have ‘substantially increased’ access to higher education for low-income and other disadvantaged groups.

But the figures are not broken down by subject area, which the BMA wants to see.

A joint report from OFFA and the Higher Education Funding Council for England, published last week, shows universities ‘met, exceeded or showed progress’ towards 83 per cent of their own targets.

The requirement for universities to widen access actively for students from non-traditional backgrounds was introduced alongside increased tuition fees of £9,000 a year. 

Medicine traditionally poor

Any university wanting to charge the full amount needs an ‘access agreement’ setting out extra support and widening access policy for hard-to-reach groups.

BMA medical students committee co-chair Andrew Wilson (pictured above) said it was ‘encouraging’ that universities had increased their activity in this area.

‘But, as medicine has traditionally been poor on widening access, more detailed breakdown is needed from the 26 medical schools in England.

‘We believe that it is essential that specific targets around widening access are set for medicine as this subject is badly affected by a lack of social inclusion among its intake.

‘The medical profession should reflect the population it serves, so widening participation in order to encourage students from disadvantaged backgrounds to enter medicine must be a key priority.’

OFFA director of fair access to higher education Les Ebdon said universities and colleges had been asked to strengthen their access commitments in 2012, when tuition fees increased, and they had ‘responded well’.

Measure of progress

Professor Ebdon said: ‘This is our first year of monitoring under the new system and of course it will take time for us to understand the full impact of institutions’ increased access activity.

‘However, we do already know that, to date, fees of up to £9,000 have not deterred young people from low-income backgrounds from going into higher education.’

He added that participation rates rose among young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in 2012/13 and from recent data it seemed the trend had continued in 2013/14.

In the 2012 report Fair Access to Professional Careers, the government’s widening access champion Alan Milburn said medicine’s impressive achievements in improving the diversity of doctors in terms of gender, ethnicity and age had not been matched by broadening the socio-economic profile.

In the 2010/11 undergraduate intake, 57 per cent came from the top three socio-economic classes but only 7 per cent came from the bottom three. Eight years earlier, the proportions were 62 per cent and 7 per cent.

More than one in five medical students (22 per cent) had attended private school. Only 6.5 per cent of UK children attend private school.

 Find out about widening access schemes to medical school

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