Universities should treat white, working-class boys in the same way as ethnic minorities, said David Willetts.

The Universities minister wants them put in the same category as students from disadvantaged communities when it comes to recruitment – meaning universities will have to agree to improve access for them before being allowed to charge higher fees.

Critics fear the move could lead to universities discriminating against middle-class students at independent schools.

Mr Willetts said the university access watchdog, the Office for Fair Access, already looked at disadvantaged groups ‘when it comes to access agreements’.

‘I don’t see why they couldn’t look at white working class boys,’ he said, in an interview with The Independent.

He said he put forward a plan to include white, working class boys as a target group for university recruitment in a forthcoming meeting with the Offa director Professor Les Ebdon.

More girls entered university every year than the number of boys who had submitted an application form, Mr Willetts said.

Figures show applications from men this autumn were 13 per cent down on the previous year – four times more than the drop in women applicants.

Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, which represents 24 of the 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.’

In an article to accompany his interview in the newspaper, Mr Willetts reveals there will be a £1.1billion increase in universities funding for teaching over the next two years – led by income from the higher tuition fees. He claims this will improve teaching standards and cut class sizes.

He also plans to remove the cap on student numbers, which currently means universities face stiff fines for breaching their targets.

And he sets out plans for a drive to target parents to explain the new fee structure. He said parents ‘reportedly understand the details of the student finance system less well than their children – for example, no eligible student has to pay upfront fees.’

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