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December 30, 2010

UK University Elitism? Independent vs. Free Meal Students – Part 1


This is part one of a two part analysis of private education in the UK.  The chart below was published on Flickr by li_jacq.

Two simple improvements:

  1. A bar chart would be more effective than a column chart because you don’t have to turn your head to read the labels
  2. The data should be ranked.  This seemingly sporadic display does not provide any insight

I pulled down the data to reconstruct the chart.

UK Elite Universities

As you can see, I’ve made the adjustments I noted above and now you can make more sense of the data.

My curiosity is leading me to look into this further.  My questions include:

  1. Why are only 16 universities listed?  These don’t represent the top 16 for this measure, so what’s their significance versus the others?
  2. What’s the relationship between Independent and Free Meal school students?
  3. Does the region of the UK impact anything?

I’ll answer these questions and more in a future post.


  1. It looks like the 16 are all members of the Russell Group, the 20 self-proclaimed top universities in the country. Maybe four of those universities didn't provide the data.

    As for the story behind the data, admissions is a hot topic for the top universities. At Oxford, for example, the media is always hunting for stories about inequalities. For example, the Guardian has its own tag just for Oxbridge elitism. Once you explore the stats, though, it's always more complicated. For example, here's Oxford's rebuttal to a recent ethnicity "controversy".

  2. Thanks Andy. There are indeed four universities that did not provide data: Cardiff, Queen's Univ Belfast, Univ of Edinburgh, Univ of Glasgow. I find it quite strange there would be any that wouldn't report the data, but I don't know much at all about UK politics or education.

    Also, thanks for the links. There are always two sides to the story. I have a friend that likes to say "facts are friendly". Sometimes the facts can be twisted to suite a specific opinion though.

  3. Hi Andys, you seem to have missed that the original post ordered the universities according to research/funding success. It would be interesting to ask why some universities do so much better on the free school meals front, without losing their research/funding status.

  4. Oh, I see that now in the tiny print. Typically you'd want to sort by the measure of the bar itself for clarity, so I'd say they did a poor job.