Willetts: White working class boys missing out on university

University graduates In general, fewer men than women are applying to university

Related Stories

Universities in England should be doing more to encourage applications from white working class boys, Universities Minister David Willetts says.

The group could be targeted in the same way as other disadvantaged groups, he told The Independent.

Boys are now out-numbered at university by girls.

And the final figures for those going to university in the UK last autumn showed a bigger drop in applications from boys than girls.

Girls are more likely to apply to university than boys and more likely to get places at the most selective institutions.

Mr Willetts says there is a "shocking waste of talent" among some young people not going to university.

He told The Independent that the Office for Fair Access (the university access watchdog), "can look at a range of disadvantaged groups - social class and ethnicity, for instance - when it comes to access agreements, so I don't see why they couldn't look at white, working-class boys".

Offa is charged with making sure universities in England set themselves targets to increase applications and take-up of places from disadvantaged groups.

'Shocking waste of talent'

Speaking on the Today programme on BBC Radio Four, Mr Willetts said while it was up to universities to decide who to admit, they could be doing more to help teenagers from poorer backgrounds to make the grade, for example by inviting them back for repeated summer schools, to raise their chances of getting good A-levels.

"There are groups that are under-performing. There is a shocking waste of talent of some young people that could really benefit from university that aren't going there," he said.

Start Quote

I do worry about what looks like increasing under-performance by young men”

End Quote David Willetts Universities Minister

The final figures for last autumn's university intake in the UK show a fall in applications from men which was four times that among women.

Just 30% of male school-leavers applied to university for autumn 2012, compared to 40% of female school-leavers, according to Ucas.

Mr Willetts told The Independent this was "the culmination of a decades-old trend in our education system which seems to make it harder for boys and men to face down the obstacles in the way of learning... That is a challenge for all policymakers and parties."

He added: "I do worry about what looks like increasing under-performance by young men."

Mr Willetts told Today universities in England had been told to spend about a third of the money they gained through increased tuition fees on "reaching out and improving access " and that this amounted to "hundreds of millions of pounds".

"We want to see that used as effectively as possible," he said.

The poor performance of many white working class boys in schools is something that has been highlighted in the past, particularly by England's schools watchdog Ofsted.

Results of national tests known as Sats taken by 10 and 11-year-olds in England show that children on free school meals do less well than their classmates, and the pattern continues to GCSE level.

Last year just 66% of those known to be eligible for free school meals reached the expected level in English and maths, compared with 82% of all other pupils.

Just 60% of white British boys on free school meals reached that level, while 68% of black British boys did so.

Social engineering

Universities generally say that the under-representation of certain groups at university is mostly because they are not getting the qualifications needed while at school.

Universities do run summer schools and other programmes aimed at encouraging applications from disadvantaged groups, but some politicians and campaigners would like them to do more.


It is well known that many children on free school meals in England do much worse in school than their classmates who are not. They often start school with lower skills than other children and many never catch up.

A lesser-known fact is that among these, white British boys do worse than any other main group.

Just over a third of teenagers on free school meals get five good GCSEs including maths and English; the national average is 58%. Among poor white boys, just a quarter make that grade, closing the door to A-levels and university for many.

The gap between poor white boys and other pupils has widened since 2006, as achievements have risen overall.

British black Caribbean boys on free school meals have improved faster and have closed the achievement gap, but still only one third of them reach the expected level at 16.

But any suggestion that universities should be made to admit teenagers with lower grades than others because of their background can be met by accusations of "social engineering".

Universities say they do take applicants' background and potential in to account when deciding on places.

Academics represented by the University and College Union say they agree that more needs to be done "to convince certain groups that university is for them" - but say poorer teenagers will be put off by increased tuition fees.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, said: "We need our brightest people pursuing their dreams.

"However, a host of recent government policies have made university a far more expensive option and the drop off in student applications suggests the increased price is a factor."

The government says no one should be put off going to university by finance because fees are not paid up-front and teenagers from poorer homes qualify for bursaries and loans to cover their living costs.

Figures out on Thursday from Ucas show a 6.3% fall in university applications from 18-year-olds in the UK compared with the same time last year. England and Wales show the biggest falls.


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    What's the point? There was a time when having a degree meant something, i.e. you were in the top 10% academically. Then Labour decided to make everyone leaving school a university student (so they didn't count as unemployed). Result? Lots of worthless "graduates" with useless degrees and no job prospects.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    They've increased university fees at the moment of greatest financial strain on people for a hundred years, so I don't believe they couldn't see this fall in applications coming. Academics told them it would happen, the people actually applying to go told them it would happen.

    Could it simply be that for this government educating the poor isn't as much of a priority as tax breaks for the rich?

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    I (white 'mixed other', working class, nobody in my family went to University) applied when I was 26, in the last year of the Student Grant. Nothing would have convinced me to take a loan to do it. Nothing that is, except for a state- (and labouring in the holidays) funded University education.

    We should be educating our most able, not our most wealthy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    what's wrong with being a mechanic/plumber?
    They make more money, have more flexibility and they don't need to drill in the books.
    Yet, these guys are still trying to push everyone to uni...just another way to mess up the unemployment stats..

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    @ 3 Drunken Hobo

    Yes, social inequality is inexcusable. So why do the SNP pamper the University-going middle classes at the expense of the kids who would benefit from F.E?
    The Tartan Tories are being found out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    In my experience, many people shunned a university education and went straight into a vocational occupation on leaving school. It certainly did them no harm, as they grew up in a more real world and applied common sense rather than theory to their business decisions. In my case, I obtained professional qualifications in areas of finance that no university degree could either offer or match.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    I have a revolutionary idea:- Allow Universities to select applicants on their merits, stop pretending that ONLY a degree leads to a well paid job and personal fulfilment and ensure that other educational routes are also financed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Hardly surprising the big fault with multiculturalism is it doesn’t include white kids and coupled with the gender biased we have these days it’s just exasperated the problem, the results of the years of neglect/apartheid are now showing the results of years of cultural and institutional neglect white males have had to suffer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Yeah fine. Funny how they've never wanted to help any other minority group, and in my experiience they've done some downright nasty sabaotage. They continue to try to do it now to me, but I'm a very self-disciplined trier, so hopefully I will find a way out, as ever without their help, and when/if I do guess what my attitude's going to be like to them, and what I'm going to put my effort into..

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Thanks to Labour's open doors policy, no party would do that since there are now too many of them here to not make an impact at an election. We are already becoming a minority in our own country, look at London, only 45% white British. There's no point any party pandering towards us, since we are becoming a smaller and smaller % of our population.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    The feminised world has turned off any interest for involvement by boys and men. The fear is that we will be missed as producers and taxpayers.

  • Comment number 32.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Isn’t it time we concentrated on the schools? Stop buggering them, and the teachers, about. Stop the damaging drive toward pointless league tables and start educating our kids – teach them how to think, curiosity and how to ask questions, imagination in their problem solving. Engaged children will value learning and aspire for more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    23.Bob Roberts
    "Normally I'm in favour of the consumer paying rather than the state, but I think for true meritocracy, everyone needs a level playing field, so this is one rare thing that I believe should be subsidised for all."

    Tuition Fees are but one part of the cost of going to uni, and the higher rate increases rather than creates a level of debt.

    Where do you stop subsidy, if not at uni?

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    The answer is simple:

    1 - Reduce the number of University places

    2 - Reintroduce grants at a level where it is possible to live on it

    3 - Regrade A-Levels so not everyone gets an A, and therefore it's possible to use them to distinguish between students

    The above worked 25 years ago when I went to college. So what was the problem ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    I think Mr Willetts is barking up all the wrong trees. He could save universities millions - a third of tuition fees revenue - simply by conducting a survey of these boys and their families to ask them what they think of university. The results might surprise him. If I were 18 wouldn't opt for university. The laws relating to repayment of fees could be changed at any time by any government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Role models?

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    It must have come as a great surprise that increasing fees to £9000 a year and leaving the average graduate with debts approaching £75,000 before they commence paid employment would have a detrimental effect on the number of applications.

    Oh Hang On as it is so mind numbingly obvious that one follows the other it didn't!

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    If you put the price up, certain groups will stop going. Seems fairly obvious. Why white, working class, males? Has any other group been told how worthless and ignorant they are in recent history by the mainstream? No wonder they don't feel they should go to uni.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Why on earth do the government think they have a right to dictate to any institution that their makeup should have the correct % of every section in society. Give everyone a non means tested grant and allow them to spend it on any form of training. Then scrap stupid quangos like OFFA to pay for it. That would create a more level playing field, and end this positive discrimination rubbish.


Page 15 of 17


More Education & Family stories



  • Peaky Blinders publicity shotBrum do

    Why is the Birmingham accent so difficult to mimic?

  • Oliver CromwellA brief history

    The 900-year-story behind the creation of a UK parliament

  • Beer and alcoholAbstinence wars

    The struggle to claim the month of October

  • Image of Ankor Wat using lidarJungle Atlantis

    How lasers have revealed an ancient city beneath the forest

  • Tesco signBest before?

    Has Tesco passed its sell-by date, asks Richard Anderson

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.