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, the white working-class demographic remains largely underrepresented within higher education.
Former-polytecnic universities appear to accept more working-class students Russell Groups in general. A study by the National Education Opportunities Network (NEON) revealed less than 3% of Oxford University students are white and working-class, while 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 many 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 is 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.”