Aston University: Aston University ranked second in country for social mobility two years running

Aston University has been ranked second in the country for making a significant contribution to social mobility for the second year running in a new report published by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) on 24 March.

Last year, HEPI published the paper Designing an English Social Mobility Index (HEPI Debate Paper 27) by Professor David Phoenix, Vice-Chancellor of London South Bank University, which offered a methodology for comparing the contribution of individual English higher education providers to social mobility.

The English Social Mobility Index (SMI) challenges the often-made assumption that only particular kinds of universities make a substantial impact on social mobility, highlighting that, in the context of their individual missions, all types of institution – from research intensives to technical universities – can, and do, make a substantial contribution to social mobility.

The Index sparked debate when it launched last year because it challenged the frequent assumptions around which universities were making a substantial contribution to social mobility. There was also discussion about the limitations of the methodology based on the data available, which was acknowledged in the paper.

The most significant of these limitations was that, at the time of publication, it was not possible to track Index of Multiple Deprivation quintiles in the Longitudinal Education Outcomes or Graduate Outcomes data. Professor Phoenix’s model therefore used the overall Longitudinal Education Outcomes scores for an institution, meaning that it was unable to identify differences in outcomes between socioeconomic groups.

Professor Phoenix explained:

“It was always my hope to refine the Index through further iterations and, thanks to Jisc making the data publicly available, I have now been able to incorporate Graduate Outcomes data by Index of Multiple Deprivation Quintile.

“The inclusion of this data has partially overcome the issue that some institutions could receive a high SMI outcome as a result of graduates from higher quintiles of the Index of Multiple Deprivation securing higher salaries, while students from lower quintiles at the same institution failed to benefit from a similar uplift in salary outcomes.

“What remains clear is that there is a real need for the sector to demonstrate the value that universities add to their students’ life chances. The SMI is just one such potential tool, but it is evident that – in an increasingly regulated sector – all universities will need to find ways to justify the value they add to their students. The main aims of the SMI remain those of supporting debate about what is an important and complex issue whilst also encouraging self-reflection amongst HEIs by enabling comparison between peer groups.

“With new higher education funding proposals from Government and a revised Teaching Excellence Framework on the horizon, it is more vital than ever for universities to be able to publicly demonstrate the value they add to their students. I hope this latest version of the Social Mobility Index will provide a valuable tool for institutions to reflect on their work in this area with reference to their own mission and peer groups.”

Saskia Loer Hansen, Interim Vice-Chancellor of Aston University, said:

“I am delighted that Aston University has retained its second place position in the English Social Mobility Index for the second year running. We take great pride in being an inclusive university, providing opportunities for students irrespective of background.

“It is getting on, and not just getting in, that really counts. Our students stay the course, reach high levels of attainment, and as the English Student Mobility Index 2022 evidences, our students go on to succeed in their chosen professions and in making a positive difference in their communities.”

The Rt Hon Michelle Donelan MP, Minister of State for Higher and Further Education, said:

“We should do more to celebrate those universities which make a contribution to real social mobility – that means getting on, not just getting in.

“This is why I’m so delighted that this new league table is seeking to do exactly that, by highlighting the work that universities such as Bradford, Aston and Queen Mary do to transform lives.”

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