TWO North-East university's have been awarded prestigious national accolades.

Sunderland is university of the year for social inclusion, while Durham is top ranked university in the North-East in the The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2021

Sunderland was ranked in the top 20 of the publication’s unique social inclusion ranking for the third successive year. It opened a new medical school last year with the specific intention of attracting a more diverse intake into the medical profession.

It is one of a handful of universities where more than 60 per cent of the intake are the first in their family to go to university and more than 98 per cent are educated in non-selective state schools.

In the academic ranking, Durham University pulls further clear of Newcastle University at the top of the region's table, rising one place to sixth nationally.

After attracting a record number of applications in 2019, breaking the 30,000 mark for the first time, the university recorded improved scores in this year’s National Student Survey measuring student opinion on teaching quality and their wider student experience, while ranking seventh in the UK for graduate prospects, with 87 per cent of students in high-skilled work or postgraduate study 15 months after leaving.

The new edition of The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2021, a free 96-page supplement will be published this weekend in The Sunday Times.

It provides the definitive rankings for UK universities and the most comprehensive overview of higher education in Britain. It includes profiles on 135 universities and the definitive UK university rankings, making use of the latest data published in the past two months. A fully searchable website with university profiles and 67 subject tables will be published at today (September 18) for subscribers to The Times and The Sunday Times.

Durham’s success in the academic rankings is not mirrored in the publication’s social inclusion ranking, however, where it slumps to next to bottom (down six places) for social inclusivity among universities in England and Wales. Only Cambridge has a poorer record on measures including recruitment from non-selective state schools, ethnic minorities or areas with low participation in higher education; recruitment of students who are mature, disabled or whose parents did not go to university; the attainment gap between black and white students.

In the latest social inclusion table, 48.7 per cent of Durham students are recruited from non-selective state schools, 11.7 per cent from ethnic minorities, 23.2 per cent were from homes where parents did not go to university and 5.4 per cent came from areas with the lowest participation in higher education.

By contrast, Sunderland (ranking 11th in England and Wales this year for social inclusion) saw 98.2 per cent of students recruited from non-selective state schools, 31 per cent from ethnic minorities, 60.1 per cent from homes where parents did not go to university and 26.9 per cent from areas with the lowest participation in higher education.

Sunderland’s School of Medicine has expanded from recruiting 15 per cent of its initial cohort of 50 medics with widening participation characteristics to 20 per cent of this year’s intake of 100. To establish a pipeline of applicants that will fit the bill, it is targeting schools in areas in the bottom two quintiles for participation in higher education to take part in a medical outreach programme. There is also a medical summer school for year 12 pupils who qualify under widening participation criteria.

Alastair McCall, editor of The Sunday Times Good University Guide, said: “Sunderland’s track record for widening participation to higher education is hard to match. The new medical school is the cherry on the cake with its ambitious plan to make the intake to medical profession more closely resemble the diverse backgrounds of their patients.

“The North-East has the lowest proportion of school-leavers going on to university and Sunderland provides an avenue to degree-level education for many who might otherwise miss out. Initiatives to engage schoolchildren who have the capability but not the motivation to aim for university are particularly bold. The sheer range of outreach and access work here makes an unanswerable case for making Sunderland our University of the Year for Social Inclusion.”