Education secretary Gavin Williamson has rebuked universities for failing on equality, telling them to “up your game and get on with it”.
In a statement released by the department for education, Mr Williamson said: “It is not good enough that white working class boys are far less likely to go to university and black students are far less likely to complete their courses than others. We cannot let this wasted potential go unchecked any longer.”
“I want all universities, including the most selective, to do everything they can to help disadvantaged students access a world-class education, but they also need to keep them there and limit the numbers dropping out of courses. My message is clear – up your game and get on with it,” the education secretary said.
Universities are required to submit access and participation plans for disadvantaged students to the Office for Students (OfS). The watchdog is currently publishing universities’ five-year plans which detail their strategy for eliminating inequalities. Universities must demonstrate how they will improve the representation and attainment of black, disabled, and deprived students.
Following the publication of the first set of plans, Chris Millward, director for fair access and participation at the OfS, said: “We are still a long way from equality of opportunity in our universities, and gaps remain particularly wide at the most selective universities.”
Data from the OfS shows that mainstream state school pupils from the most advantaged areas are 2.4 times more likely to go to higher education than those from the most disadvantaged areas. Disadvantaged students are also more likely to drop out of university than their better-off peers.
Earlier this month, the education secretary addressed vice-chancellors at the Universities UK (UUK) conference and told them the sector it must “get its house in order” and scrap ‘conditional unconditional’ offers.
During his speech at the UUK conference in Birmingham, Mr Williamson said: “I’m delighted that some universities have already scrapped making so called ‘conditional unconditional’ offers. I hope, and I expect, that the rest are going to follow suit.”
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