Exclusive: Treat white working-class boys like ethnic minority, Willetts tells universities

Massive fall in admissions demands drastic action, Universities minister says

Universities will be told they should recruit more white, working-class boys in the wake of figures showing a massive slump in applications from men for courses.

The Universities minister David Willetts wants white, working-class teenage boys put in the same category as students from other disadvantaged communities and ethnic minorities – as groups that should be targeted for recruitment.

The move has the potential to create conflict with Britain's independent schools if universities – as a result – use it to discriminate against middle-class applicants in order to curry favour with the university access watchdog, the Office for Fair Access.

The 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," Mr Willetts says in an interview with The Independent.

He also warns, in an accompanying article: "There are now more women who enter university each year than there are men who submit a Ucas [university application] form."

The final figures for last autumn's intake show the slump in applications from men last year was 22,000 – and the decrease in the entry rate for men to university was four times higher than that for women.

Mr Willetts called this "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 all parties."

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

Mr Willetts said he plans to advance the question of including white, working-class boys as a target group for recruitment in university access agreements – which universities have to sign to gain permission to charge higher fees –in his forthcoming meeting with Professor Les Ebdon, the director of the access watchdog Offa.

If universities fail to deliver their access agreements, they can be refused permission to charge fees of higher than £6,000 a year – although this sanction has not yet been invoked.

William Richardson, the general secretary of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, which represents 250 of Britain's independent schools, said reaction would depend on how universities reacted to "tie-breaks" in admissions – where two candidates have exactly the same qualifications.

"We wouldn't expect middle-class girls' applications to be turned down in favour of working-class boys. Each application should be looked at individually."

Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, which represents 24 of the country's most selective universities, said: "Universities cannot solve this problem alone.

"The root causes of the under-representation of students from disadvantaged backgrounds are under-achievement at school and poor advice on the best choices of A-level subjects and university degree course."

Many universities would be able to convince the watchdog they had met the requirement to attempt to recruit more white, working-class boys by pointing to summer schools they already run in disadvantaged areas, it was being argued last night.

The latest gender breakdown on applications for university (for 2011) show that girls outnumber boys in medicine and dentistry (10,145 to 7,190), and also in law (19,080 to 13,255). In applying for courses to gain teaching qualifications, they lead by 60,335 to 19, 725.

In terms of this year's A-level results, they massively outperform boys in the creative arts and drama, English, languages and psychology.

The performance of boys – particularly the white working classes – has worried Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, for more than a decade ever since a report it published bluntly said they concentrated more on the three Fs (fighting, football and f***ing) than the three Rs.

In his article, Mr Willetts also reveals there will be a major increase in funding for teaching in universities over the next two years – up from £8bn now to £9.1bn in 2014 – as income from the higher fees begins to roll in.

This will allow them to improve teaching standards and cut back on the size of classes, he says.

In addition, he wants to increase the flexibility for universities to recruit students by removing the rigid cap on over-recruiting students (whereby universities face stiff fines for going above their target number).

Parents will also be targeted in a new drive to convince school leavers they should not be fearful of the new fees structure, he added.

He said they "reportedly understand the details of the student finance system less well than their children – for example, no eligible student has to pay upfront fees".

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Masterchef cooks Tony Rodd (left), Emma Spitzer (second left) and
Simon Wood (right) posing with judges Gregg Wallace (centre) and John Torode (second right), as the three will be seen cooking their hearts out in the hopes of winning the show.
TVReview: Tired Geography teacher John Torode and shaved Scotch egg Gregg Wallace crown the champion
Voices
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week
voices
Life and Style
life
News
The Grand Palais in Paris will be transformed into a 4,000-seat cinema, with 44 double beds at the front
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Windo...

Guru Careers: Product Training Specialist / Software Trainer

£25 - 32,500K (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Produ...

Recruitment Genius: Unqualified NVQ Assessors - Health, Social Care & Management

£16000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning independent ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions
Peter Kay's Car Share: BBC show is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade

In the driving seat: Peter Kay

Car Share is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade. The programme's co-creator Paul Coleman reveals the challenges of getting the show on the road