White British students 'least likely' to go to university

Report finds poorest Chinese pupils more likely to enrol than richest white peers

November 10, 2015
Boy struggling with schoolwork

White British children are significantly less likely to go to university than young people from ethnic minorities, according to research which suggests lower aspirations may be to blame.

A government-commissioned study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that, among learners who sat their GCSEs in England in 2008, only 32.6 per cent of white British students went to university, lower than any other ethnic group. Chinese and Indian students were more than twice as likely to enrol in higher education, with participation rates of 75.7 per cent and 67.4 per cent respectively.

Some of the differences become particularly stark when socioeconomic background is added to the analysis, according to researchers Claire Crawford, of the University of Warwick as well as the IfS, and Ellen Greaves.

For example, two-thirds of pupils from the poorest group of Chinese families go to university, making them 10 percentage points more likely to go to university than white British pupils from the top socioeconomic quintile.

Given that some ethnic minorities do not tend to do as well at GCSE as white students, the gap in participation with white students widens once prior attainment and other background characteristics are controlled for. Typically, it stands at between 15 and 25 percentage points, with black African students being 35 percentage points ahead.

Worryingly, the gaps appear to be growing. For example, while Chinese students were 10 percentage points ahead of similar white British students in 2003, this had widened to 24 percentage points by 2008, the report says.

The picture is more complex when it comes to highly selective universities, with black Caribbean students being significantly less likely to enrol in one of these institutions than their white British counterparts, the report says.

In contrast, other groups have much higher participation rates. Most strikingly, the proportion of Chinese pupils attending a highly selective institution, 34 per cent, is higher than the proportion of white British students going to any university, and is three times higher than the proportion of white British students going to a selective institution.

The authors say that the data does not allow them to identify what is causing the differences, but they did find that the gaps were particularly pronounced when comparing white British students to ethnic minority students who have English as a second language, and are therefore considered to be more likely to be recent immigrants.

It is often argued that recent immigrants have higher aspirations for their children, and the BIS study “provide[s] some suggestive evidence of a role for aspirations and expectations in driving these differences”, the report says.

In addition, the differences were particularly pronounced when looking at black and ethnic minority students who lived in London, even once prior attainment was controlled for.

Previous studies, however, have found that many black and ethnic minority students do not do as well as their white peers once they get to university.


You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Related universities

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Professor of Military Technology THE SWEDISH DEFENCE UNIVERSITY
Director of Digital Services STAFFORDSHIRE UNIVERSITY
Technician for Psychology Programmes ST MARYS UNIVERSITY, TWICKENHAM

Most Commented

Home secretary says government will support 'best' universities

Man handing microphone to audience member

Academic attainment of disadvantaged students can be improved if they can decide how they are assessed, study claims

Woman drinking tea from saucer

Plugging a multibillion-pound deficit exacerbated by June’s poll result may require ‘drastic measures’, analysts have warned

PhD lettered on book spine

Billy Bryan and Furaha Asani look at how to get the most out of your doctoral studies

Italy's gold medallist

New measures to ensure universities are ‘not penalised’ for taking poorer students also outlined for next stage of TEF