Last Thursday the government responded to the worsening gender gap by encouraging universities to attract more working class white male applicants. This follows UCAS statistics published in January 2016, showing that there were 58 per cent more females than males from working class backgrounds applying to university. This corresponds to the overall pattern of 36 per cent more female students attending universities.
Jo Johnson, the Universities and Science minister, has proposed that universities build greater partnerships with disadvantaged schools. The Office For Fair Access (OFFA) has responded warmly to the proposals which will help increase numbers of white working class males attending university from only 10 per cent towards the national average is 40 per cent.
This initiative will go alongside one aimed to encourage students with learning difficulties such as dyslexia. Moreover, the government are trying to offer more support to Black students who are shockingly 50 per cent more likely to drop out than their White peers.
Johnson claims this initiatives can be aided through “smarter spending”. The universities will be going into deprived areas to inspire those who would benefit from the opportunities that higher education offers.
Johnson claims his message is simple: “Be innovative—extend your summer programmes and taster courses to bust the myths but also come up with new ideas. And once you’ve recruited those students, help them to stay the course.”
However experts have pointed out before that working class males are underachieving in comparison with their female counterparts from a much earlier age than the last couple of years of school.
Last year The Mancunion reported that Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment at Buckingham University blamed the gap on the fact that “girls do much better than boys at GCSE and are more likely to go on to A-level, and they have tended to get better A-level results more or less across the board than boys.”
This appears to suggest that the impact universities can have on the number of working class boys achieving highly enough in school will be limited.
This is recognised by Johnson, who in The Guardian writes: “Raising university participation rates is a complex challenge and it is, of course, not one that universities alone can solve. Our reforms to raise attainment levels in schools will play an especially important part, but they are not the only solution.”