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Bridging the Gaps Conference on Social Mobility


3 min read Partner content

Academics and leaders from the private, public and third sectors meet to discuss how to improve social mobility in Europe’s most unequal country.

The UK is now the most unequal country in Europe, according to a leading Oxford academic.

New research shows that young people from poorer backgrounds are much more likely to be put off applying to university because of a fear of debt than those with wealthier parents.

UCAS data also shows that an A-Grade student from the North of England applying to Oxford University is half as likely to be accepted as someone with the same grades from the South.

At crucial stages in their lives, these students are being held back from achieving their potential, as social mobility starts to reverse.

Academics will present evidence on Wednesday showing that where you are born, and how much your parents earn, increasingly determines what opportunities will be available to you in your life.

When deciding whether to apply to university, children from lower socio-economic backgrounds are now far more likely to be put off by a fear of debt than those with the same grades from wealthier backgrounds, according to new research from Claire Callender, Professor of Higher Education Policy at Birkbeck, University of London and UCL Institute of Education.

Those that do apply have a harder time getting in to the most competitive universities.

Research by Oxford University Professor of Geography, Danny Dorling reveals that an A-Grade student from the South of England is more than twice as likely to be accepted to Oxford University as a student with the same grades from the North.

When they eventually enter the workplace, today’s young people face increasingly restricted opportunities and huge disparities in pay.

Speaking ahead of the conference, Professor Dorling said:

‘Both economically in terms of incomes, and educationally in terms of opportunities, the UK is now the most unequal country in Europe. Reducing inequalities requires a commitment, not just from the education sector, but across the board.’

The Bridge Group’s annual conference brings together academics and leading figures from the private, public and third sectors, including the BBC’s Head of Diversity Tunde Ogungbesan and KPMG Vice Chair Melanie Richards to discuss what can be done to close the gap. 

Bridge Group Director, Nicholas Miller, said

‘Danny’s right, people are being held back at important points in their lives because inequality in our society is increasing. We are bringing experts from different sectors together to discuss how we improve social mobility in this country.’

Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:

‘We are at a crucial point in the debate about social mobility, but there’s a risk that, whoever wins this election, social mobility will seem of secondary importance behind Brexit. The different political parties all say they want to reduce the level of pre-determination in people’s lives but they can’t agree on how to do so. Now’s the time for everyone who wants a brighter future to put social mobility at the heart of the political agenda.’

Melanie Richards, Vice Chair of KPMG in the UK, said:

‘Improving social mobility has never been more important than it is today. If the UK is to remain competitive on the global stage we need to ensure talented people have the opportunity to fulfil their potential, no matter their background.

‘UK businesses need to work together with Government, academia and most importantly the communities we operate in to ensure access to a fulfilling and rewarding career is open to everyone.’

The conference is being hosted by KPMG at their Canary Wharf offices. It is sold out, but will be live tweeted @bridge_group and the discussion will continue using #bgconference17

Press Contact: Matthew Brown, 07890 388497 (


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