Social Mobiliy Foundation logo

Elite university entry amongst poor high achievers 20% higher if they join an SMF programme

IFS pic 1The Social Mobility Foundation (SMF) today publishes an independent evaluation by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), funded by JPMorgan Chase Foundation, which examines the SMF’s impact on the university destinations of young people on its programmes. It finds that the impact of its programme on participants, who are high achievers from disadvantaged backgrounds, is large: amongst those who go to university, it increases the likelihood of attending a Russell Group institution by between 17% and 27% compared to those with similar attainment from similar backgrounds who do not participate in the SMF programme. The scale of the impact is likened by the IFS to having A*A*A* at A-Level rather than AAA, and means that a higher proportion of SMF participants enter Russell Group universities (70%) than those from independent schools with similar grades (65%).

Commenting on the report, Chief Executive, David Johnston, said ‘The SMF’s programmes are all about giving able but disadvantaged young people the network of advice and support they might get if they were in a middle class professional home or attended an independent school. We do not work on the academic attainment of participants, but rather on the sorts of activities top schools run to improve the UCAS application, approach to aptitude tests and interviews applicants must undertake and today’s evaluation shows that we are making a real difference to tackle the under-representation of people whose families and schools can’t offer the same support’.

The Chair of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, Alan Milburn, said: ‘This is an important evaluation that underlines there is much more to entering our most selective universities than just prior attainment. I urge universities to read the report and consider how the significant sums they spend on access and outreach activities might be better used to turbo-boost what has been very slow progress in admitting talented young people from disadvantaged backgrounds’.

Hang Ho, Head of Europe, Middle East and Africa, JPMorgan Chase Foundation said: ‘Impact measurement was critical in developing our long-term partnership with SMF. We are delighted to see the results of the IFS evaluation which shows the significant impact of SMF’s programmes on the university destinations of not only participants on our programme but across SMF’s provision.’

The full report can be read here: IFS Evaluation 



1. The Social Mobility Foundation is a charity that helps young people from low-income backgrounds enter universities and top professions.

2. The core programme the SMF runs, the Aspiring Professionals Programme, features a mentor from your chosen profession, university application support (trips to universities, workshops on applying to university, aptitude tests and interviews), work placements and skills sessions across the sixth-form and university years.

3. This evaluation compares the education outcomes of SMF participants (collected by SMF via participant questionnaires) with outcomes for a group of pupils with similar observable characteristics (such as performance at secondary school and neighbourhood context), observed in administrative data. This report focuses on the education outcomes for four cohorts of participants with the SMF, entering between 2009 and 2012. The evaluation was undertaken by Claire Crawford (University of Warwick and IFS), Ellen Greaves (IFS) and Wenchao Jin (IFS).

4. Conditional on going to university, the estimated impact on the probability of attending a Russell Group institution is large, equivalent to an increase across SMF cohorts of between 17% and 27%, compared to the level of participation that would otherwise be expected in the absence of the SMF’s APP.

5. The estimated impact on the probability of attending an institution most likely to be visited by ‘top employers’ is also large, equivalent to an increase across SMF cohorts of between 13% and 43%, compared to the level of participation that would otherwise be expected.

6. The range of estimates for the increase in participation at a high-status institution is roughly equivalent to the difference between achieving three A grades at A-level and three A* grades at A-level, on average, conditional on participation. This gives some sense of the scale of the estimated impact. As an additional comparison, around 65% of pupils who attend independent schools for A-levels and who achieve a high level of attainment (at least three C grades) attend a Russell Group institution, conditional on university participation, compared to over 70% of SMF programme participants.

7. Interviews with young people who have participated in the SMF’s programmes can be set up by calling 07964 382 986

8. For questions or further information about the report, or to speak to the authors, please contact Jonathan Wood at IFS on 020 7291 4818 or 07730 667013. Alternatively, e-mail


Share this:
  • Categories

  • Join the conversation

  • Archive