Surrey dominates Oxbridge entrance tables

The universities of Oxford and Cambridge accepted more students from Surrey for the academic year 2009/10 than they did from 47 deprived local authorities. Statistics published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills show the councils of origin of the almost 300,000 English teenagers accepted into UK Oxbridge and Russell Group universities that year.

The ten areas topping the table are all located in the south-east of England, with notoriously affluent Surrey in pole position. The 12 authorities at the bottom produced fewer than two successful applicants each – a group dominated by the northern council areas, with the north-east of England faring particularly badly. These figures have given new evidence to support the existence of a north-south divide and have provoked criticism of the Labour government's failure to address this inequality.

Conservative MP and member of the Commons Education Select Committee Damian Hinds laid the blame entirely on Labour, expressing his "disgrace that young people's futures are so determined by where they happen to grow up."

The study comes amid a growing focus on cultural inequalities influencing application statistics. The revelation in December that 4 in 5 Oxbridge entrants last year were white did nothing to alter the institutions' reputations as ethnically homogenous. However, while pressure on the two universities to channel resources towards outreach and ensure a fair admissions process mounts, it is acknowledged that many factors are beyond their control.

"The work of identifying, engaging with, and raising the aspirations of pupils currently under-represented at selective universities is a responsibility which is shared by many institutions and agencies," said a spokesperson for the University of Cambridge, adding, "the single greatest factor influencing entry to highly selective universities is prior attainment. This is highly variable across and within LEAs."

CUSU Access Officer Taz Rasul echoed the university's statement, commenting "you can't get a representative student body just by myth-busting…it's in the hands of lots of different institutions to make HE access fairer". Rasul also acknowledged "legitimate reasons why would want to stay at a great university close to home – not just financial, but personal and emotional" and their effects on admissions figures.

Former King's Access Officer Zak Keene argued that it was "already too late" for most students he spoke to in the college's annual access tour of the north-east, some of whom were only in year 10. In addition to substantial deprivation, "university choice in the area is very much locally focused," and throughout the UK "Oxbridge is still seen by minorities as a white person's place or as a southerner's place".

Alice Moore - Deputy News Editor

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