For the last two decades both Oxford and Cambridge have taken more than half of their entrants from state schools. The latest rates are 67% for Oxford and 68% for Cambridge, or somewhat higher if overseas students at UK schools are excluded. These rates have generally increased over the past few decades with particularly large increases in the last two years. The impact of the pandemic on school exam arrangements and grades led to an increase in overall entrants at both institutions in 2020 and particularly from state school pupils.
However, the historical data shows that progress has been slow. At the end of the 1920s around 20% of entrants to both universities started their education at a state school. In the late 1930s there rates were 24% at Oxford and 19% at Cambridge started their education at a state school. By the early 1950s these rates had increased to 43% and 34% respectively. In the early 1960s 34% of students at Oxford and 27% at Cambridge came from state secondary schools.
While the proportion of entrants from the state sector has increased, students from a relatively small number of independent schools, state grammar schools and sixth form colleges make up a substantial proportion of entrants. Students from ten schools/colleges make up around 10% of admissions at both universities. Half of entrants to both universities come from around 150 schools/colleges. Few if any students at the majority of schools and colleges apply to either Oxford or Cambridge.
Interest in the background of students who go to Oxford and Cambridge is nothing new. The 1852 Royal Commissions on both universities identified access by poorer students as an important and longstanding issue. The debate about elitism at Oxford and Cambridge has tended to focus on a single indicator –the proportion of students from state schools- and particularly whether it has gone up or down in the latest year. This gives a limited view. A fuller picture needs more context, including longer term trends in this indicator, rates of entry for other under-represented groups, data on other prestigious universities, the overall distribution of applications to and offers from Oxbridge by individual schools and colleges and a better understanding of the different types of state schools that send pupils to Oxbridge.
The latest statistics on admissions can be viewed at:
Oxford University publishes a range of more detailed data in interactive tables. These includes the socio-economic background of entrants by college, entrants by local authority, Parliamentary Constituency, ethnicity, disadvantage and individual school/college. These are listed individually in each category on the Undergraduate admissions statistics page (under ‘detailed statistics’).
Cambridge University also publishes applications, offers and acceptances by individual school and college.
Readers may be interested in the Sutton Trust reports Oxbridge Admissions from 2016 and Access to Advantage from 2018 . Data from Freedom of Information requests on applications and entrance by local authority and socio-economic breakdowns can be found on David Lammy MP’s website. Higher Education Statistics Agency performance indicators on widening participation can be downloaded at: www.hesa.ac.uk/pi.
Office for Students publishes data on access, continuation, attainment and progression at individual universities in its Access and participation data dashboard. This breaks down indicators by age, ethnicity and disability of students as well as the deprivation and past level of higher education participation of the local area they come from