COLUMN: Helping improve access to university

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Pupils from low income backgrounds are much less likely to go to university than their more affluent peers, and over six times less likely to go to Russell Group and other top universities.

Lots of things combine to create this gap, including a simple lack of familiarity about what university is about and why it might be good to aim for.

Figures collated by the Sutton Trust show that 15 per cent of secondary school pupils in the UK are eligible for free school meals, but these students make up only two per cent of the intake at England’s 25 most selective universities, which is where we come in.

I first got involved in The Access Project, a charity, when I heard a young 18-year old say that he “didn’t even know that people went to university when they were 18”.

The Access Project is totally focused on giving people from lower income backgrounds all the information they need to make a decision about whether university is right for them, and what they need to do to win a place.

Perhaps even more important, The Access Project recruits an army of volunteer tutors who give our students that vital one-to-one support to ensure they get the best grades possible in their exams.

These sessions help our students achieve better grades and progress to top universities.

Getting high enough grades is another hurdle on the way to university and sometimes without family support or even a quiet place to study at home, it can be tough for students to keep on top of their studies.

A few weeks ago I was privileged to attend the Mansfield and Ashfield 2020 Business Breakfast to talk about how the Access Project has recently expanded its programme to three schools in the area, Ashfield School, Shirebrook Academy and Vision West Nottinghamshire College.

With more than 70 business leaders present, we were keen to sign up volunteers to offer just one hour a week to help our students fulfil their destinies.

Being from Lincolnshire myself, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised at the true East Midlands grit and generosity I found in the Chad district.

We have already signed up volunteers for training and matching with our students.

But we need more. We need to be able to offer young people the experience and expertise of people who have gone through university and achieved because of it, offering them role models from the local area.

To register an interest in finding out more, email

Visit to find out more about the charity and its work.