Universities told to target disadvantaged groups.

‘The government has imposed new rules on universities requiring them to work more closely with schools in poorer areas, targeting white working-class boys in particular in a bid to get them into higher education, the Guardian can reveal.

Following the prime minister’s ferocious criticism of levels of inclusion and diversity in universities, the government has issued fresh guidance to the Office for Fair Access (Offa) demanding that universities do more to boost social mobility and raise aspirations among disadvantaged groups.

As well as targeting disadvantaged white boys, who are five times less likely to go to university than those from the most advantaged backgrounds, universities are being asked to reduce high drop-out rates among black students, who are 50% more likely to quit their studies than their peers.

The government has also written into the guidance for the first time that students with learning difficulties – such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, Asperger’s syndrome and attention-deficit disorders – should be prioritised and treated as a target group.

Making the announcement, the universities minister, Jo Johnson, called for “smarter spending” by universities, and urged them to develop “deeper partnerships” with schools in disadvantaged areas.

In an article for the Guardian’, the minister writes: “Almost 40% of young people now progress to higher education by the age of 19, but the figure is just 10% for white boys from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, who are five times less likely to go to university than those from the most advantaged ones.

“The participation gap is particularly stark at the most selective institutions. If you walk into a Russell Group university, only 6% of new young students will be from the most disadvantaged 20% of neighbourhoods. And if you’re in Oxford, it’s only 3%.

“For black and minority ethnic students, who are applying to university in increasing numbers, there needs to be much greater support through their courses. On average, black students are 50% more likely to drop out of university than their peers. This is unacceptable in a country that believes in aspiration and opportunity.” (The Guardian)

‘The guidance comes just weeks after the Prime Minister announced universities would have to publish data on the backgrounds of their applicants.

All universities which charge more than £6,000 a year for tuition fees are required to draw up an agreement showing how they will improve access for disadvantaged groups.

Under these new plans, they will have to set themselves specific targets for recruiting such under-represented groups. These will then have to be agreed by the Office of Fair Access in the usual way.

Mr Johnson said: "We are asking universities to go further and faster than ever before, especially the most selective institutions.

"This guidance for the first time identifies the groups of students where most attention is needed, such as white boys from the poorest homes and students with specific learning difficulties.

"We want to see smarter spending from universities, with more outreach into neighbourhoods with low university entry rates, and much deeper partnerships with local schools." (BBC News)

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