Roma population ‘least likely’ to access higher education

A report from the Higher Education Policy Institute aims to draw attention to an ethnic minority that is often omitted from conversations about education disparities

Universities must improve their data collection relating to students and staff who identify as gypsy, Roma or Travellers (GRT), a report has said.

The report was written by Dr Laura Brassington, policy manager at the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi). It says the government should invest at least £60 million to work with the GRT community to improve educational outcomes.

Data collection needs to improve, Dr Brassington said, because limited information exists, making progress hard to track. The partial data available results from many not wishing to disclose their identity for “fear of prejudice”.

Gypsy, Roma and Travellers of Irish heritage have the widest attainment gap in early-years education and some of the lowest rates of attendance and the highest rates of permanent exclusion from schools. They are statistically the least likely to enter higher education by the age of 19, at around just 6.3% compared to 40% of all young people. Gypsy and Irish Travellers are the UK’s ‘least liked’ group, according to a survey that suggests 44.6% of Britons hold negative views of GRTs – 18.7 percentage points higher than Muslims.

If GRT students were represented equitably in higher education as in society, there would be 2,600 students instead of the 660 at present.

Dr Laura Brassington said: “Gypsy, Roma and Traveller individuals still face exclusion from education. It is tragic that so many avoid identifying by their ethnicity for fear of racial prejudice. It is scarcely believable they still face so many barriers when accessing mainstream education.

“Education institutions could commit to change this situation by doing more to recognise the challenges and signing the Pledge to tackle them, while policymakers should improve data collection and find the modest sum of money that could make a huge difference.”

The report was written with the support and assistance of the Centre for Higher Education and Equity Research (Cheer) at the University of Sussex. Louise Morley, who works at Cheer, said: “The story of GRT communities is one of spatial segregation, symbolic and actual ghettoisation, and the racialisation of poverty and social exclusion. We now have the opportunity to make important strategic interventions for change, and transition from abjection to inclusion.

“While the collection of ethically disaggregated data is a fraught concern across Europe, the absence of data has been a feature in the UK’s higher education system, with GRT often not offered as an ethnic identity in equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) initiatives.”


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