Louisa Clarence-Smith, The Telegraph, October 26, 2023
White students have made up the minority of applicants for Oxbridge and medical degrees for the first time, new figures show.
The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) has published data on demand for highly competitive courses, which have an earlier application deadline than most university degrees.
It showed that for the first time on record, aspiring white students have made up less than half of UK applicants.
Of the 51,890 UK applicants across all ages, 49.2 per cent were white, down from 50.7 per cent last year and 67.9 per cent in 2015.
This year, the total number of applicants from the white ethnic group was 25,530, the lowest number in at least a decade.
The universities of Oxford and Cambridge, as well as most medicine, dentistry, and veterinary degrees, have an October application deadline, which is earlier than the January deadline for most degrees.
Ucas figures also showed that a record number of teenagers from the most deprived areas of the UK have applied for the highly competitive courses.
The number of 18 year-olds from the most disadvantaged postcodes who have applied rose by seven per cent to 3,160 this year, more than double the number of applicants in 2017.
Applications from UK teenagers in poorer areas have risen at a faster rate than those from affluent postcodes.
However, teenagers from wealthier neighbourhoods were still far more likely to apply than those from poorer areas.
The number of teenagers from the most affluent areas who have applied this autumn rose by two per cent to 17,080 this year, almost a quarter more than the number who applied in 2017.
Dr Mark Corver, a former director of research at Ucas, who is managing director of dataHE, said: “The profile of applications to these courses remains highly skewed with 9.2 per cent of young people in richer neighbourhoods applying compared to 2.2 per cent in poorer areas, but this gap does not seem to be widening this year.”
He added: “There are continuing wide differences in application rates by ethnic group, reflected in applicants from the White ethnic group falling below 50 per cent of all UK applicants for the first time.”
Oxford and Cambridge both run outreach programmes designed to increase the number of students from ethnic minorities and from poorer backgrounds.
They also have “contextual” admissions systems which mean they consider how a candidate’s school history and background may have impacted their education as part of efforts to increase the number of students from under-represented backgrounds.
Sander Kristel, interim chief executive of Ucas, said: “It’s encouraging to see a record number of young students from the most disadvantaged areas aiming high with their choices for next year. The narrowing of the disadvantage gap, against the backdrop of a global pandemic, shows the effort we have made as a sector, to ensure everyone in society can aspire to study the most competitive courses.”
Overall, there were 39,130 applications from UK 18 year-olds for the most competitive courses this year, which is up from 38,660 last year but down from 39,920 in 2021.
A total of 20,850 international students of all ages applied, which was a small drop on the previous year but higher than pre-pandemic.
China has remained the largest source of international applicants for the degrees.
Prof Lee Elliot Major, professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter, said: “We have to ensure that we attract talent from all backgrounds, whether that is defined by socio-economic factors, ethnicity or gender.”