Treat white working-class boys as a minority, says Willetts

Jan 3, 2013

Universities minister aims to get more men to study by creating a new minority group

UNIVERSITIES must treat white working-class boys like an ethnic minority if they are to address a big drop in the number of males enrolling in higher education, the universities minister says. His proposal raises concerns that women and middle-class candidates will face discrimination when they apply to study at college.

David Willetts was reacting to final figures for last autumn's intake that show 54,000 fewer men applied to university – 13 per cent less than the previous year and "four times higher" than the fall-off among women, says The Independent.

The minister will try to give his proposal teeth by "advancing the question" of making white, working-class boys a "target group" in the access agreements British universities must sign if they want to charge higher fees. The agreements are overseen by the access watchdog Offa and The Independent says colleges would be likely to comply with the minister's initiative to "curry favour" with the organisation.

If unis don't meet the terms of their access agreements Offa can be block them from charging students more than £6,000 a year, although this sanction has yet to be applied.

The Independent points out that any move to positively discriminate in favour of working-class males will likely "create conflict" with independent schools where most pupils are middle-class. And the proposal got short shrift on Twitter where the vast majority of commenters opposed the idea of creating yet another minority group.

Ian of Petersfield tweeted: "Brilliant. After adding White Working Class Boys to the list of officially disadvantaged groups … we will only be left with two sectors who should be discriminated against: White Working Class Girls and Middle/Upper class Boys and Girls."

Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, which represents 24 of the most selective universities, told the Daily Mail that it was unrealistic to expect universities to "solve" the issue of falling male enrolments on their own. She said the "root cause" of the lack of students from disadvantaged backgrounds was "under-achievement at school and poor advice on the best choices of A-level subjects and university degree course."

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David Willetts, come to Britain's second city, Birmingham. Now, open your eyes, and, hey presto, white working class boys, are, indeed, an ethnic minority .... Coming to a town or city near you in the next decade.