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***New*** English Social Mobility Index for 2022

  • 24 March 2022
  • By David Phoenix

The blog below, written by Professor David Phoenix, Vice-Chancellor of London South Bank University (LSBU), includes the results of the 2022 Social Mobility Index.

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.”

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

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.

Professor David Phoenix, Vice-Chancellor of LSBU

Enabling social mobility by expanding opportunity and enabling the fulfilment of potential is fundamental to our University strategy. To be recognised as the leading university in the country for the second year running really is testament to our commitment to supporting our students to achieve the best outcomes as graduates and to making a real difference to their life chances.

Professor Shirley Congdon, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bradford

I am delighted that Aston University has retained its second place position in the English Social Mobility Index. At Aston University, we take great pride in being inclusive, 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 2022 Index evidences,  go on to succeed in their chosen professions and in making a positive difference in their communities.

Saskia Loer Hansen, Interim Vice-Chancellor & Chief Executive of Aston University

We are delighted, for a second year running, to be ranked third among all English universities and top among the Russell Group in the English Social Mobility Index. We were equally pleased to be named the top University in the country for social mobility in the Sutton Trust and IFS report of November 2021. As Professor Phoenix points out, the two reports are significantly different in methodology. Recruiting students from backgrounds typically under-represented at research-intensive universities like ours, and supporting them to succeed, is at the heart of everything we stand for as a University. We are therefore proud that, whichever way you look at it, we are demonstrating progress in delivering on our mission to open the doors of opportunity to everyone who has the potential to succeed, irrespective of their background.

Professor Colin Bailey, President and Principal, Queen Mary University of London

Based partly on how institutions are assessed abroad, Professor Phoenix has come up with an absolutely fascinating way of evaluating the impact of different higher education institutions in England. Unlike many other league tables, there is a huge diversity – the top 10 includes four former Colleges of Advanced Technology (Bradford, Aston, City and Salford), three Russell Group institutions (QMUL, KCL and the LSE), two former polytechnics (Birmingham City and Wolverhampton) and an institution that became a full university less than a decade ago (Newman). It all confirms that our higher education sector has strength in breadth.

Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI)

A year ago this month, HEPI published my paper Designing an English Social Mobility Index (HEPI Debate Paper 27), which offers a methodology for comparing the contribution of individual English higher education providers’ to social mobility. In short, it combines:

  • the social distance travelled by graduates from an institution
  • with the number of graduates so transported.

The English Social Mobility Index (SMI) set off some debate both on Twitter and HEPI’s website here and here 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 my 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. My 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.

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 (with some adjustments to the overall weightings see methodology note below). 

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. 

The changes to the rankings can be seen below using the modified methodology and current data for 2022: 

Notably, 16 institutions have retained their position in the top 20 between the 2021 and the 2022 Index, while the top three positions remain entirely unchanged. 

In November last year, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) with the Sutton Trust released their own ranking of English universities’ contributions to social mobility. One of the strengths of their system was that it also contained data for subject level – thus providing a way to check that institutions were not benefiting from the strength of their averages – leaving some faculties to do the heavy lifting on access while not producing the same positive graduate outcomes as subject areas recruiting mostly affluent students.

However, the IFS’s measurement of success – based on earnings at age 30 – required them to look at the social mobility of students who studied at university back in the mid-2000s. I would argue that this makes it a less useful measure as there is little institutions can do to change their recruitment practices from 15 years ago. 

With the Office for Students’ planned publication from this autumn of performance dashboards for continuation, completion and progression by each subject and each institution, as part of their planned changes to the Ongoing Condition of Registration of B3, I hope the next iteration of the SMI will similarly be able to incorporate subject level data but in a way that is recent enough that providers will be able to enact changes to improve their contribution to social mobility in the context of their mission. 

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 Office for Students is, for example, requiring that institutions demonstrate learning gain within their upcoming Teaching Excellence Framework submissions. 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. 

Further information can be obtained for those not listed above by emailing [email protected]

Methodology Note 

In the 2021 SMI, the weightings were approximately half on Access (2.25 out of 4.75) and half on the outcomes stages (2.5 out of 4.75). 

With the incorporation of Graduate Outcomes data by Index of Multiple Deprivation Quintile, and with Quintile 2 weighted at 0.5x, the Access weighting needed to be increased in order to balance the model. Keeping Access with a 1.5x weighting would have resulted in Access at 2.25 out of 5.25 and the other two stages at 3 out of 5.25.

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1 comment

  1. Rehana Awan says:

    Interesting the OU isn’t listed here?

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