The Queens' Building at Queen Mary University of London. Photo by Robert Postings © Social Streets CIC.
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Is Queen Mary still the best university for social mobility?

In 2021, a landmark report by the Sutton Trust found that Queen Mary was the best university for social mobility in the UK. Now staff fear that increased entry requirements mean the university will lose that crown. 

Queen Mary University of London states that its vision is ‘To open the doors of opportunity’. For many of its students, 12% of whom are from Tower Hamlets, our local university has opened doors they wouldn’t have been able to access otherwise.

A landmark report published by the Sutton Trust in November 2021 found that Queen Mary was the leading university in the UK for social mobility. The report found that graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds at Queen Mary were more likely to become socially mobile than at any other university.  

However, there is concern amongst university staff that recent changes to admissions policies will negatively impact the chances of less affluent students to secure a place at Queen Mary

Some members of staff at Queen Mary regard these changes as ‘reflective of the abandonment of meaningful work towards social mobility.’ 

‘Student entry requirements are becoming stricter, with fewer contextual offers diminishing the access of working-class students to higher education,’ members of staff at Queen Mary told Whitechapel LDN.

In August 2022, Queen Mary increased entry requirements across all subjects. The vast majority of students will now have to achieve a minimum of BBB in their A-levels to gain a place. 

At one department at Queen Mary, 40 applicants had their offers rejected after they failed to meet their BBB offers. 

A-level students who missed their offers at other universities also faced tougher grade expectations at clearing. A Freedom of Information request found that 145 courses accepted students with BBC grades through clearing in 2021. In 2022, 78 had raised boundaries to BBB, 21 to ABB, and 46 no longer offered places at all.

Queen Mary has a particularly important role in Tower Hamlets, as disadvantaged university applicants are far less likely to travel far from home to go to university. If it becomes harder for disadvantaged pupils to access Queen Mary, those in Tower Hamlets will be most significantly impacted.

Disadvantaged pupils, such as those on free school meals, are less likely to meet their full potential and progress to higher education. Figures from the Department of Education show that in Tower Hamlets, 58.3% of children receiving free school meals aged 15 were in higher education at 19 compared to 67.6% of their peers who do not receive free school meals

The Sutton Trust report examined people who had graduated in the mid-2000s, tracking their career progression until 2019. The findings therefore do not reflect the impact of recent changes to the University’s admissions policies. 

A spokesperson for Queen Mary, University of London said ‘Our University is deeply committed to providing equal opportunities for all prospective students with the academic potential to succeed, irrespective of their background.’

‘Ninety-three per cent of our home students are from state schools; 47% are the first into higher education; and 26% from households where the annual taxable income is less than £35k, qualifying them automatically for the Queen Mary University of London Bursary. Twenty-six per cent of our students were eligible for free school meals.’

‘We work hard with partner schools to address challenges young people from diverse backgrounds face in accessing education. In the past two years, we have introduced new, innovative outreach programs, including Access to Queen Mary and QM Futures, both aimed at supporting students currently underrepresented in higher education to attain a university place. Many of our applicants are eligible for a contextual offer.’

If you enjoyed this article, you might be interested in our article covering strikes at Queen Mary University.

Additional Reporting by Robert Postings.

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One thought on “Is Queen Mary still the best university for social mobility?

  • Interesting read! I’m a first-generation college student myself, and I can attest to the impact that Queen Mary has had on my academic journey. The university’s commitment to social mobility is truly inspiring, and I appreciate the data provided in the post. It’s great to see such a tangible contribution to the conversation around access to higher education. Keep up the great work!


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