Diversifying the elite: the responsibility of universities?

The role of universities in improving the life chances of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds is a perennial topic of discussion. While an increasing number of disadvantaged students undertake full-time higher education, and universities continue to devote more resources to attract them, progress at the most competitive institutions remain slow or non-existent.

This year alone, calls on universities have ranged from Theresa May suggesting they should be compelled to sponsor schools, to David Lammy MP arguing that Oxbridge should reach out to “every single student who gets 3 As” to encourage applications, to a range of interventions, including from Reform, arguing for a greater focus on so-called contextualised admissions.

Suggestions that top universities need to make greater efforts to diversify their student bodies are, however, bound to be met by criticism. Some argue that real change will only come about by reducing school-age inequalities, others that universities must focus on academic excellence rather than ‘social engineering.’

This panel event discussed whether universities are responsible for supporting social mobility at all, and if so, how they should be held to account for doing so. The panel included:

  • David Lammy MP, Labour Member of Parliament for Tottenham
  • Anne-Marie Canning, Director of Social Mobility and Student Success, King’s College London
  • Dr Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive, The Russell Group
  • Professor Vikki Boliver, Director of Research – Professor and Deputy Head of School, School of Applied Social Sciences, Durham University

Photos from the event

The panel


The Rt Hon David Lammy MP


Anne-Marie Canning


Dr Tim Bradshaw


The panel


Professor Vikki Boliver
















Sevim Ekmekci, Department for Education














Phil Richards, Jisc


Amatey Doku, NUS





26 January 2018
13.00 - 14.30