While the figures do appear to highlight the problem of social exclusion in higher education, PR experts say that the real issues begin much earlier in the education system, and the findings are unlikely to affect tomorrow’s vote.
Mark Pack, associate director at MHP Communications, said: ‘These figures do highlight how important the issue is, and I think it has some relevance, but the real issues about social exclusion in the education system kick in at a much earlier age.
‘If you start from the point of view of asking "how do we address this problem?" – you can’t simple look at post-18 financial arrangements.’
George Pascoe-Watson, partner at Portland, said that the information could bring pressure on Oxford and Cambridge to change their admissions policies. He commented: ‘Oxbridge colleges are clearly aware there is a perception problem, judging by the well-prepared defensive lines they have put out. It does seem their explanations hold water and they will clearly fight any attempt by ministers to impose new targets.
‘It is unlikely this story will change the result of Thursday’s vote. There is a far bigger principle at stake for all MPs – ensuring Britain’s universities offer world class education that people of all backgrounds are prepared to buy.’