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University of Bradford ranked #1 in country for improving students’ life chances


Students graduating at the University of Bradford in 2019

New ranking system puts Bradford top of new national league table

The University of Bradford has topped a new university league table for England based on its impact on improving students’ social mobility.

The new English Social Mobility Index, published on 4 March by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), is the first to measure and compare the impact universities have on people’s social mobility - in other words, their ability to change their social status relative to one's current social location within a given society.

The University of Bradford was ranked first in the country out of more than 100 universities.

This comes on the back of the University being named 'University of the Year for Social Inclusion 2019/20' by The Times and Sunday Times.

Academic registrar Nikki Pierce said: “Delivering social mobility is a core part of our University strategy and something the university has been working really hard to support. To be recognised as number one in the country for this is really gratifying. It demonstrates the significant commitment we make to this and the fact we really have tried to make a difference to the lives of people in the region.

“This report recognises students who come to Bradford do well in terms of changing their life chances. Most league tables rank universities based on the UCAS entry tariff, which is a reflection of A-level grades. What this new ranking system shows is the impact we’re having on students, many of whom come from socially deprived backgrounds and who might not have had opportunities to show their ability and yet, with the right support, they are able to achieve their full potential.

“Ultimately this benefits students but it has a wider impact in terms of levelling up, benefiting local businesses and the regional economy.”

Changing lives

The Index 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 modern technical universities – can, and do, make a substantial contribution to social mobility.

The English SMI, which learns from a well-respected comparable indicator in the United States, takes account both of the numbers of affected students and their ‘distance travelled’ (that is: their ability to change their social status) using existing data such as the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD).

The IMD takes into account multiple factors, including things like income, health outcomes and crime rates and is used to measure relative deprivation for small areas.

In the new English SMI, University of Bradford was ranked first in the country, with an aggregate score of 5.076, Aston University was ranked in second place and scored 4.317. Scores in the top 40 range from 5.076 to 0.560.

In 2019/20, the University of Bradford was named as University of the Year for Social Inclusion by The Times and Sunday Times. The University was also among the earlier signatories to the Rt Hon Justine Greening’s Social Mobility Pledge and has since been named an Opportunity Anchor in recognition of its pivotal role in transforming lives.

Breaking the cycle

Author of the report, Professor David Phoenix, Vice-Chancellor of London South Bank University (LSBU), called on universities in England to use the SMI to reflect on how they can have the most impact on the social mobility of their graduates. He also called on the Government to invest in institutions that have high returns in their approach to social mobility.

Professor Phoenix said: “Existing university league tables perpetuate a self-fulfilling cycle of behaviour which compounds social advantage - with institutions with the highest entry tariffs admitting students from the most privileged backgrounds who then inevitably go on to command the highest salaries.

“The English SMI is an attempt to highlight, instead, the value that universities make to social mobility by showing the distance – academically and economically – they help their students to travel.

“The results of the Index reflect the diversity of our higher education sector. Some institutions admit moderate numbers of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds and enable these individuals to achieve significant social mobility.”

Prof Phoenix called on the Government to “invest in those institutions which demonstrate high returns in their approach to social mobility” and urged the higher education sector to work together to improve its contribution to social mobility.