The dreaming spires are out of our reach

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SIXTH formers in Sheffield are seven times less likely to go on to study at Oxford University than school leavers from leafy south west London, exclusive figures obtained by The Star today reveal.

The country’s oldest and most prestigious university took on just 147 students from Sheffield over the past seven years.

That compares to 912 from the SW postcode of London, which includes the exclusive suburbs of Westminster, Richmond, Kensington, Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham.

The figures, obtained as part of The Star’s Your Right To Know campaign, give a breakdown of admissions to the university across postcodes for the past seven years.

And the south of England dominates the top of the list for admissions.

Second highest for places at the 916-year-old institution is the OX postcode, which takes in Oxford and its surrounding towns, with 791.

Third in the list is the West London W postcode - with 630 student admissions - followed by Reading and Basingstoke with 618, and Guildford and surrounding towns in Surrey with 606.

It is not until SK - the postcode which takes in Stockport and affluent parts of Cheshire, at number 22 - that a postcode area north of Birmingham features.

The S postcode, which includes Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley, Chesterfield and parts of the Peak District, comes in 32nd in the list, with an area total of 230 admissions over the seven years.

DN, which includes Doncaster, comes in at number 71 on the list with just 111 student admissions since 2005.

The Star managed to break the figures down further, with closer analysis showing admissions from South Yorkshire’s individual city and towns.

Sheffield numbered the most student admissions in the county at 147, and next was Doncaster with 38.

Only 16 students from Rotherham were admitted to Oxford’s dreaming spires and ancient quadrangles in the last seven years - and only 10 bright scholars from Barnsley managed to make it through the institution’s hallowed doors. The neighbouring town of Chesterfield sent 35 students to Oxford in the last seven years.

Danny Dorling, Professor of Human Geography at The University of Sheffield and an expert on educational equality and the country’s north-south divide, believes the issue stems from the admissions system itself.

He told The Star: “What happens in most rich countries is students go to a nearby university. All countries have some kind of selection and sorting - but not as much as England. I think we should move towards a system where it is more usual to go more locally. I’ve never understood why people think you become independent and learn about the world by going somewhere most other people have similar A-Level results to you.”

But Dr Julia Paolitto, a spokeswoman for The University of Oxford, said it was ‘neither useful nor acceptable for a university in search of the best students to rule out talented candidates simply because of where they come from’.

“Oxford therefore selects students on the basis of achievement and potential, and nothing else,” she said.

“We do an enormous amount of recruitment and outreach work to attract the best applicants from all over the country. The limiting factor in admissions is the number of students achieving the grades necessary to make a competitive application, and the numbers applying to Oxford.”

Oxford University runs a free summer school each year to which A-Level students from educationally or socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds are invited to apply - and of the attendees last year 41 per cent went on to get a university place.

The Star also asked The University of Cambridge for its intake data but it refused.