White working-class students make up less than 5% of the student population at over half of England’s universities, according to a recent study by the National Education Opportunities Network.
While white people are by far the most populous race group at most English universities, including Newcastle where they make up 74% of the student body, this study has revealed that the white working-class demographic remains largely underrepresented within higher education. In an opinion article for The Guardian, writer Phil McDuff described universities as “both pathways and gateways” that “can help train you to get somewhere new, but they also work to make sure that only the right sort of people get into positions of power.”
As many people have pointed out, polytecnic universities appear to accept more working-class students Russell Groups in general. This is shown when looking at Oxford’s universities: a study by the National Education Opportunities Network (NEON) revealed less than 3% of Oxford University students are white and working class, whilst Oxford Brookes won the NEON Widening Access Initiative (Outreach) Award for raising “the aspirations of adult learners from disadvantaged and underrepresented communities”. Most polytechnics were formed with the education of working-class communities in mind, and in light of these statistics some people believe that it is time for other universities to follow suit.
However, while many prestigious institutions are making slow progress on this issue, it could be said that Newcastle are taking steps in the right direction. According to Lucy Backhurst, the university’s Director of Student Recruitment, Admissions and Progress, 7.2% of the student population were from white working-class backgrounds in 2017/18, putting Newcastle ahead of most of England in terms of representation.
“Recruiting and supporting the brightest and best students, regardless of background is a priority for us. We have a longstanding commitment to widening participation and equality of opportunity not only in our region, but across the UK and this is shown in our figure of over 7% of our undergraduate student population who are from a white working-class background.
“PARTNERS is probably the best known access scheme that we run. It has been running now for 19 years and over 4,500 widening participation students have entered and successfully progressed through the University as a result. But we do a lot of work in the region with specific under-represented groups too. Through the North East Collaborative Outreach Project, a government-funded partnership of 5 universities, 16 colleges and 106 schools in the region, we are working with the Newcastle United Foundation and the other football clubs to engage young men to think about higher education, and the feedback has been really encouraging. Our aim is to build on this work in the future.”
While the exact percentage of white working-class people is unclear, it is evident that work needs to be done before the demographic is accurately represented by the student population.
Last modified: 5th March 2019