Vice-Chancellor welcomes prime minister's focus on education for students from all backgrounds

University of Sheffield Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Keith Burnett has responded to comments by prime minister David Cameron about tackling social inequalities in educational institutions.

Universities have been invited to meet Business Secretary Sajid Javid to discuss a plan to ensure they publish detailed breakdowns of application success rates by race as well as course, gender and socio-economic background.

Sir Keith said: "I welcome the prime minister's focus on encouraging young people from under-represented groups to take up places in Britain's top universities. The University of Sheffield was founded to make a quality university education available 'to the child of the working man' and we take very seriously the responsibility to admit the most talented pupils, regardless of background.

"The reality, though, is that this work begins long before the age of 18. Our outreach programme for medicine, for example, works with bright children from a young age, encouraging those who had not considered university to think about becoming a doctor. We support subject choices and offer summer schools throughout secondary school, with some of our first participants now qualified as doctors. Our students also help run homework clubs and offer tuition in key areas such as maths.

"However, we need to think about more than links to schools, exam results and open days. We also know that many under-represented groups fear student debt and are worried about employment after graduation. So we have been developing a real alternative. Working with industry, we now offer advanced apprenticeships to 600 young people who are studying manufacturing engineering in a state-of-the-art university research environment, each fully sponsored and employed by companies.

"These young people are now considering degree level study at a leading university while developing engineering skills desperately needed in our region and country. It is this kind of bold thinking and action which will genuinely give options to those young people who currently imagine university is not for them."