Oxbridge applications mapped: London and the south east dominate

Map removed as Google Fusion Tables no longer works.

Where do applicants for Oxford and Cambridge universities come from? According to data from Ucas, the top locations are Oxford, Cambridge – and, in far greater numbers, many parts of London.

The information, recently released through Parliament’s library, records the number of applicants (whether successful or otherwise) to the two universities in 2011 by parliamentary constituency. Oxford West and Abingdon (which covers the university area of Oxford) is top with 232 applicants, followed by Richmond Park in London (230) and Cambridge (208). The rest of the top 10 are all London suburbs, with the exception of 10th placed Chesham and Amersham, just outside the M25.

The distribution of Oxbridge applications is a ‘hockey stick’, with numbers of applicants rising sharp towards the top of the table. Only 34 constituencies (5.2%) have 100 applicants or more – in red on the map – and all of them are in London, the south east and east of England regions. The first from outside these regions is Bristol West, 36th with 95 applicants. The first north of England seats are Tatton, and Altrincham and Sale West, (both in Cheshire, joint 48th with 82 applicants each). Most seats in Scotland, the north-east of England and Wales have fewer than 25 applicants (shown in purple).

At first glance, the data could look off-putting to anyone considering Oxford or Cambridge universities from outside the south-east of England. In terms of numbers, a student from an upmarket London suburb is more likely to find others from his or her area at the two universities.

But these figures are for all applicants, not successful ones. When challenged on why so many of their students are the sort of people one expects to find there, Oxford and Cambridge universities argue they can only choose from those who apply. As this Guardian article details, Cambridge gives extra weight to applicants who don’t come from the ‘right’ background. Oxford does the same: both are under government pressure to demonstrate they take the best people, and find themselves trying to compensate for the geographic (and other) biases in the cohort applying.

As a result, applicants from the places on this map coloured blue are actually a bit more likely to get in than those from the red and pink areas – all other things being equal.

Technical notes: the original data is available here from Parliament’s website as a spreadsheet. Comparing constituencies directly is not ideal, due to variations in population and demographics, but the differences are far larger than would be explained by, for example, the smaller average size of constituencies in Wales.

The location of each pointer is mainly automatic based on the constituency name, although with some tidying up (in the separate Location column on the fusion table): there may still be some errors, however. Finally, Ucas states only ‘5 or less’ for the 32 constituencies with the fewest applicants, rather than giving the exact number, citing data protection.