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
News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
News
people
News
people
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
News
Destructive discourse: Jewish boys look at anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on to the walls of the synagogue in March 2006, near Tel Aviv
peopleAt the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
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

Modern Foreign Languages Teacher - French

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Modern Foreign Language Teach...

RE/Humanities, Sittingbourne School

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: We urgently seek an experienced ...

SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Southampton: Randstad Education are recruiting ...

Maths Teacher, full time supply role, Medway Academy

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Our client school in Chatham, a ...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?