There has been considerable activity on the issue of fair access to higher education recently - legally, politically and practically. On the political front, the press has reported the debate in the Coalition Government over the proposed (now confirmed) appointment of Professor Sir Les Ebdon (currently Vice Chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire) as the new Director of the Office for Fair Access to replace Sir Martin Harris. On the practical front, various bodies are gaining a higher profile for the immensely valuable help and support which they provide to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, such as the charity IntoUniversity (registered charity number 1118525).
The BBC's Today programme also reported on the rising number of UK applicants to Harvard whereby students with a family income of less than $60,000 will have all their tuition, accommodation and flights home paid for, with other support for families with income of up to $150,000. The Sutton Trust is also launching its first summer school for British pupils applying to university in the US.
On 17 February 2012, the Administrative Court also handed down its judgment in the judicial review proceedings brought by two 6th form students against the Statutory Instruments passed in December 2010 (the 2010 Regulations) which permit the charging by English universities of a higher fee of up to £9,000 pa for undergraduates from within the EU from September 2012: R -on the application of Hurley and Moore -v - Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills  EWHC 201 (Admin). The 6th formers argued that the 2010 Regulations were contrary to the right to education conferred by Article 2 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights in and of themselves, alternatively when read with the non-discrimination provisions of Article 14. As recognised by Lord Justice Elias giving the leading judgment, "the thrust of the argument is that the new rules will have a chilling effect on the ability of those from disadvantaged social backgrounds to take up university places." Having reviewed the background leading to the passing of the 2010 Regulations, including Lord Browne's Independent Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance, he concluded that any restriction on the right to higher education was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, going on to say that it "will, in my view, take a very exceptional case indeed before it can be said that the charging of fees of itself, absent discrimination, deprives the right of its effectiveness at least where loans are made available to those who need them."
The arguments of counsel for the Secretary of State were accepted, namely that all the policies directed at increasing access to poorer students should be considered, that the courts should be slow to intervene with decisions in which a public body has expertise and is accountable to Parliament and that it was not the case that there had been inadequate consultation or analysis. The sting in the tail however was the finding that the Secretary of State did not carry out the "rigorous attention" to the public sector equality duties which he was obliged to do. That said, there was found to be substantial compliance with the equality duties and that there was "proper consideration to those particular aspects of the duty which related to the principle of levying fees." Accordingly, the court granted a declaration that the Secretary of State had breached his public sector equality duties but declined to quash the 2010 Regulations.