A ‘pioneering’ scheme to help disadvantaged students go to the University of Bristol has offered a third of places to students at private schools.
Nearly half of the schools taking part in the 2017 Bristol Scholars pilot programme are private, with 33 per cent of the adjusted offers made to their students.
The figures revealed by student newspaper Epigram show that seven local state schools applied for the scheme and six independent schools.
Lucy Collins, head of UK recruitment at Bristol University, said the scheme has always been open to all secondary schools from the state and independent sector in Bristol.
She said: “At the heart of the Bristol Scholars scheme is the determination to provide opportunities for local students whose potential is not recognised in their predicted A Level results.”
However, Epigram editor Ben Parr said: “I think the general consensus on social media and from talking to people about it is that, whilst the scheme itself never said it was for state school students only, people seem fairly shocked that the uni’s drive to promote equal opportunity for applicants should include top private schools and, not only that, but quite a significant proportion of them.”
The scheme, which was launched by education secretary Justine Greening in December 2016, invited head teachers from all local secondary schools offering post-16 education in Bristol to select five ‘high potential’ students to be put forward for the scheme on the basis of their progress and promise.
Selected students would be granted a reduced, guaranteed offer for the course they wish to study at the University of Bristol, as well as receiving pastoral care and a bursary to aid financial support.
All students had to meet ‘widening participation’ criteria including being the first of their family to go to university, receive free school meals, live in care or are a young carer themselves, to gain opportunities to which they may not otherwise have had access.
“This is a pilot year and only a subset of schools applied to take part in the scheme,” said Collins. “Our ambition for the future is that all schools in Bristol will submit applications.”
She added that the Bristol Scholars scheme “complements the nationwide contextual offer scheme, in which we reduce our standard offer by two grades, which is only open to aspiring schools and colleges in the state sector”.
Bristol South MP Karin Smyth said that she was “very disappointed” on learning about the figures.
She said: “When Bristol Scholars was launched it was widely praised and as south Bristol’s MP I considered it an encouraging step forward for my constituents.
“But if a university scheme aimed at improving access to higher education for talented young people who wouldn’y otherwise get these opportunities is being used by private fee-paying schools, then something is wrong.
“By offering private school pupils a third of places on an initiative that’s meant to widen university access for disadvantaged students, Bristol University is making a mockery of its own scheme. I am very disappointed by these figures.”