Universities with the lowest number of free school meal entrants have received the highest teaching award including here in Oxford.
New Research has found the most disadvantaged students are continuing to lose out even after they reach higher education.
The Higher Education Policy Institute said universities that recruited a smaller number of students who had been eligible for free school meals were more likely to receive the highest award for teaching excellence and student outcomes.
No college or university with more than 30% of FSM students received a gold award under the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), the paper by Professor Antony Moss of London South Bank University found.
The research noted that gold, silver or bronze awards are given under TEF on the basis of the excellence an institution delivers in teaching, learning and student outcomes, as well as ensuring these are consistent across different types of students including disadvantaged ones.
But the paper found that institutions handed a gold award recruited significantly fewer Free School Meal students as a proportion of their overall intake compared with bronze and silver universities.
It also found that gold providers did not achieve comparatively better outcomes for students compared to silver and bronze providers.
The universities of Bath, Exeter, Oxford and Loughborough were among the gold award winners with the lowest proportion of Free School Meal entrants in 2020/21.
Those with the highest proportion of FSM entrants included Middlesex University, the School of Oriental and African Studies, London South Bank University and Roehampton University – all of which received silver awards.
Report author Prof Moss suggested funding arrangements should change to ensure “those universities educating the majority of England’s disadvantaged students do not continue to lose out” while HEPI director Nick Hillman suggested a more tailored approach to the TEF awards might work.
“This report shows that the heavy lifting on social mobility is not distributed equally across the higher education sector. Bronze and Silver TEF-ranked, lower-tariff institutions are doing far more to expand access to higher education, by recruiting the majority of disadvantaged students.
“At the same time, they are achieving comparable outcomes compared to high-tariff providers, even though these universities recruit very few disadvantaged students and have greater resources per head to support them.
“Currently, funding for supporting disadvantaged students is distributed equally across universities with Access and Participation Plans in place. The analysis in this report suggests the Office for Students should rethink how it provides this financial support so that those universities educating the majority of England’s disadvantaged students do not continue to lose out.”
Mr Hillman said:
“This important new research suggests those who received Free School Meals continue to lose out even after entering higher education.
“The Teaching Excellence Framework was designed to measure the quality of universities and the outcomes of students, but the evidence shows it does not sufficiently reflect one basic educational truth: it is harder to educate thousands of disadvantaged students than it is to educate a handful of them.
“The Teaching Excellence Framework panels are currently working hard to give out the first full set of awards to universities since 2017. It is vital they learn from the past by doing more to recognise the circumstances of individual institutions.”