Where do Oxbridge students come from?

Widely accepted as being at, or very near, the top of British higher education, the question of who gets in to Oxford and Cambridge universities has been the subject of interest since the year dot.

State school pupils, students from minority ethnic backgrounds, those from lower socio-economic groups – all are groups that Oxford and Cambridge have been accused of under-representing in the recent past.

But one question that doesn’t seem to have been asked before is: where do Oxbridge students actually come from?

My story with Richard Adams for the Guardian suggests that undergraduates at the universities aren’t drawn evenly from across the country, with a golden triangle centred on Oxford, Cambridge and London contributing disproportionately many students.

Oxbridge in thrall to applicants from the south-east

Oxbridge in thrall to applicants from the south-east

A ‘golden triangle’ of local authorities centred on London, Oxford and Cambridge send a disproportionate number of students to Oxbridge, as Richard Adams and I report for the Guardian:

Undergraduate places at Cambridge and Oxford universities remain dominated by students from London and the south-east of England, according to data released to the Guardian, highlighting the country’s wide gaps in educational achievement and the stubborn failure of efforts to encourage applications from more diverse backgrounds.

Surrey sent almost as many young people to study at Cambridge and Oxford last year as Wales and the north-east region of England combined. Yet 868 applications were received from Surrey, compared with 1,187 from Wales and the north-east – which between them had more than 100,000 more young people in the comparative age group.

A single London borough – Barnet – alone had 130 offers of Oxbridge places from 408 applications last year. That equates to 46 applications and 15 offers for every 1,000 16 to 17-year-olds in the borough, according to the latest census figures. Meanwhile, Dudley in the West Midlands – with a similar-sized age cohort – had just 61 applicants and 13 offers, or seven applications and 1.58 offers per thousand.

Three London local authorities – Richmond upon Thames, Kensington and Chelsea, and the City of London – sent more than 25 students to Oxbridge per 1,000 16 to 17-year-olds in 2012, compared with an average of just over 2.5 students per 1,000 for England and Wales as a whole.

You can read the full story here, and an accompanying analysis piece can be found here.

The story was based on freedom of information requests I submitted to Oxford and Cambridge universities. I’ll be posting more about the data behind the story shortly.