University admissions policies could be holding back white, working-class boys, report finds

Personal statements and interviews ‘may present a barrier’ to higher education

University admissions practices such as personal statements and interviews could be holding back white working-class boys, according to a report published today.

The report, from the think tank LKMco, says that white working-class boys are “less likely to have access to the specific forms of cultural capital” that are needed to produce good personal statements and perform well at interviews.

It adds that they are also more likely than other groups to prioritise “swift entry into paid work” over education.

“Although it is unhelpful to characterise these as ‘low’ aspirations, they do often stand at odds with progression to higher education and the commitment to defer earnings,” the report says.

Only 10 per cent of the most disadvantaged white boys enter higher education. The report notes this is “significantly below the participation rates of disadvantaged white girls, disadvantaged boys from other ethnic groups and their peers from more advantaged backgrounds”.

It says there is a “pressing need” for greater understanding of the reasons for this.

Parental involvement

The report calls for a greater focus on persuading working-class parents of the benefits of higher education for their children. Attempts to widen access to university “should not underestimate the value of informing parents about the day-to-day reality and longer-term benefits of higher education”, it says.

The issue is likely to be a priority for Theresa May. In her first speech after becoming prime minister on Wednesday, she said: “If you’re a white, working-class boy, you’re less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university.”

The report also finds:

  • Efforts to increase university access rates among white working-class boys should begin at primary school.
  • White working class boys’ access to some university courses is held back by their limited awareness of subjects such as economics and philosophy.
  • There is no agreed definition of the term “white working-class”, which makes it difficult to target this group with support.

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