Making Access Fairer

Executive Director Christine Townley questions whether we are giving young people fair access to higher education

The recent report by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission on access to Higher Education tells a sorry story about the number of state school pupils getting into the Russell group universities.  Despite having the same qualifications as their public school peers state school children do not get the same numbers of places offered to them.   Sadly although  there has been an increase in admissions to those Universities as a whole in the last ten years more places have been bagged by privately educated young people.  More young people from 4 public schools get to Oxbridge than from all the state schools (c 2000) put together.   That’s not fair!


Innovation, problem solving and team playing are instrumental for the construction sector. If the industry is then not having a fair access to all young people it is quite likely missing out on talent it is not able to access or see.  Within that missing talent might just be the person that would be a key innovator for the sector or the best project manager ever.   Not only are the young people missing out the industry is too.  We all need to do more.


More needs to be done to help students at school understand about the different sectors and the professions therein.  Changes to careers services of late appear to have reduced the information and advice and guidance young people get.  Why?    The grapevine suggests that there may be a move towards better guidance on a sector by sector basis.  Young people need to know how the world of work is structured, who does what and where and those things that are specific to one sector  and  those that are generic  to all.


The construction Industry tells its story well to young people and  our  Budding Brunels programme works in partnership with major employers and others to bring construction and the  professions  to life in a meaningful way.   Just this week twenty six young people from Birmingham are finding out about construction using the Vinci project for Jaguar Landrover as the ‘vehicle’ to bring the industry and professions to life;  real learning in a real context.     Budding Brunels has been recognised by the Office for Fair access as an initiative that  increases students’ chances of reaching Higher Education and is endorsed by ICE and CIC.  It provides a three day awareness programmes that is accredited through the Open College enabling the young people to understand what they might do, where they might work and how best they can get in to the professions…each cohort then competes for work placements with the partner company.   These programmes do just what last week’s report recommends it reaches out to schools where there are high numbers of students on free school meals and gives them a leg up on their journey to work.


We need to help the influencers understand the sector too.  I was recently in an East London Sixth Form school talking to its teachers and those from its feeder schools.  The teachers were all hungry to find out more about construction so that they could articulate it best to their pupils and to get a real feel of the ‘image ‘of the industry rather than that mythically painted through Chinese whispers. ‘Influencing the Influencers’ is as much important as influencing the students themselves.

I call on friends and others in the sector to make a joined up effort to enable all young people across the country to understand what a great industry construction is.  As green shoots of confidence become a little more visible we must get our young people skilled and ready for the upturn.  I am sure that none of us would be keen to see skills shortages mean that business goes elsewhere.  Let’s make a difference together.