Warwick Scholars programme will also include bursaries and support for local applicants

Warwick University is to launch an ambitious effort to recruit disadvantaged students from within its region, with a package of measures including financial support, reduced admissions barriers and aid to local schools.

The university says it is prepared to spend £10m a year on the programme, named Warwick Scholars, to improve the admissions prospects of talented students from deprived areas or underrepresented groups living within a 30-mile radius of its campus.

Warwick’s programme is the first significant response by a Russell Group university to the higher education regulator’s recent call for universities in England to improve access using contextual admissions, which adjust entry requirements based on a student’s background and family circumstances.

Stuart Croft, Warwick’s vice-chancellor, said the university was prepared to lower its required A-level entry requirements by as much as four grades, based on evidence that the university has collected on previous admissions policies over the last six years.

“Students from less advantaged backgrounds and less successful schools simply can’t get to a place like Warwick, so we’re trying to calibrate what works,” said Croft.

“We have traditionally used a two-grade reduction and that has worked to some extent but quite clearly the feedback is that four grades would make an enormous difference, so we are going down that road and doing this in a very careful, evidenced way.”

The reduction would mean that an offer for a place on Warwick’s economics course, which currently requires an A* and two As, could be as low as BBB.

Alongside the reduced entry grades, the university will give a 50% tuition fee discount in each year of study and a means-tested support bursary worth £2,000 a year – a total package worth nearly £20,000 for students on a three-year undergraduate course. Students would also be eligible for other bursaries.

Earlier this year, the Office for Students urged English universities to make greater use of contextual offers to increase their intake of disadvantaged and underrepresented young people. Croft said that his university’s experience was that students admitted under such programmes did just as well.

“We’ve found that there is no statistical evidence at all that students who come in through those routes do worse than students who come through traditional routes, on the work we’ve done with our own students over the last six years. It makes us confident for us to scale up in this kind of way,” Croft said.

Likely students will be identified by teachers based on academic potential and GCSE performance, and the programme will be open to all UK-based pupils attending sixth forms and colleges within the target area, which includes Coventry, Warwickshire, parts of Solihull and Birmingham, and Leicester.

Other criteria include having been in local authority care, being eligible for free school meals, living in a deprived area, or other “significant extenuating circumstances” such as being a young carer, or having disabilities or long-term illness.

While still at school, the scholars will receive individual tuition from current undergraduates and regular meetings with the department where they hope to apply, as well as residential courses and a “revision bootcamp” before A-levels.

Croft said the geographical limit was based on the “natural commuting area” around the university, with previous research showing that students from less advantaged backgrounds are three times more likely to live at home and commute.

“In our region we are not successful enough at supporting young people with talent. When they are successful, we lose far too many of those students to London. So one of the things we want to do is try to help build a cohort of people who succeed and stay in the region, and contribute to its social and economic success,” Croft said.

The first sixth formers to take part will be announced this summer, for enrolment in 2020. The university said that when running at full capacity the programme will cost almost £10m annually in fee discounts and bursaries.

Source: The Guardian

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