It’s been revealed that around half of the universities in the UK have poor white students accounting for less than 5% of their total student population.

The National Education Opportunities Network (Neon) has published a report that reveals the number of white students who are attending top universities from deprived areas.

Their figures highlight that the University of Oxford has 3% of poor white students, while Teesside University has 28%.

The organisation says that not enough universities have a clear target for recruiting white working class students.

The education secretary, Damian Hinds, says there is a strong risk of white working class communities ‘feeling left behind’.

National initiative to tackle educational underachievement

Neon is an organisation that helps promote wider access into universities and it says there needs to be a national initiative to tackle educational underachievement seen in disadvantage, white youngsters across colleges as well as schools and universities.

Their research shows that less than one in five universities have a target for admitting poor white students and efforts to improve participation are described as ‘variable’.

The report highlights that if universities were set a target of 5% for encouraging poor white students then an extra 10,000 students would be going to university.

Researchers also say that in terms of population proportion, poor white youngsters are less likely than black or Asian teenagers to go to university.

And, according to the latest application figures, the number of white students applying for courses beginning in autumn is in decline, while they are growing for black and Asian applicants.

A widening gender gap

There’s also a widening gender gap with women more likely to apply to university than men.

This means that when the factors are combined, white working class men are becoming the most under-represented group in higher education.

One of the report’s co-authors, Graham Atherton, said more effort is needed to encourage white working-class men to go to university.

Chris Millward, the Office for Students’ director for fair access, says the study highlights the work ‘that needs to be done’.

He added that universities will need to explain the work they are doing to reduce the gaps in higher education to attract men and the ‘participation between the least and most advantaged’.

‘Widening access and ensuring the success of all students’

A Universities UK spokeswoman said that universities are committed to ‘widening access and ensuring the success of all students regardless of their background’.

She added: “18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged areas are more likely than ever before to go to university.”

She also said that reintroducing maintenance grants for those in most need would also help participation levels.