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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
British musician Mark Ronson arrives for the UK premiere of the film 'Mortdecai'
music
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
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

Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

Recruitment Genius: Nursery Practitioner - Faringdon

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: We currently have an opportunity for you to jo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Developer - Cirencester - £29,000

£25000 - £29000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have be...

Recruitment Genius: Primary School Sports Coach

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Calling all talented Level 2 qu...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us