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
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
News
news
News
i100
Travel
Fair trade: the idea of honesty boxes relies on people paying their way
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
News
people
Sport
Antoine Griezmann has started two of France’s four games so far
sport
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Nursery Assistant/Nurse all cheshire areas

£7 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: We are a large and successful recrui...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Qualified Nursery Nurse for Bury Nu...

Maths Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Full time key stage 2 teacher job at ...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary