UK Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that he plans to require universities to publish data on the gender, class, and ethnicity of admitted students, referring to it as a “transparency duty.”
The published data, which will include the rates of applications, entry, and retention among each of these groups, will be used to ascertain if universities are inhibiting access by marginalized groups. The information can also be used by prospective students to decide which institutions they would like to attend.
According to a press release from the Prime Minister’s office, Cameron said:
“Too many in our country are held back– often invisibly– because of their background or the color of their skin.”
“We must be far more demanding of our institutions, do even more to raise aspirations and be relentless in the pursuit of creative answers.”
“I believe this new transparency duty offers a real chance to help nudge universities into making the right choices and reaching out in the right ways.”
According to the data already collected, the lack of diversity of admitted students is a substantial problem in UK universities.
Only one tenth of the poorest white working class men go on to attend higher education.
In 2014, Cameron’s alma mater Oxford University admitted 2,500 students, only 27 of whom were black. Emily Flanagan of the Northern Echo reports that Oxford and Cambridge are both restricting access by students from northern areas, and just 145 of the two universities’ students had previously received free school meals. Cameron notes that the reasons behind this inequity are complex and include systemic problems like the quality of previous education, but he still believes that the universities could do better and “go the extra mile.”
In response to the publication of these statistics, Sir Peter Lampl, chairperson of the Education Endowment Foundation, also asked the universities to admit more students from underserved areas.
Coast Week quoted Business Secretary Sajid Javid:
“This new transparency duty will highlight where progress is being made and where institutions could do much more. Only by working together can we tear down barriers and create a genuine level playing field for those with the potential to study at our world-class universities.”
Cameron also recently called for an inspection of racial bias in the court system. Currently, people of color make up more than a quarter of the prison population, but only 14% of the general populace.
Cameron has appointed David Lammy, a Labour Member of Parliament and former universities minister, to lead an investigation, reports Sky News. In interviews Lammy has noted that until very recently there were more students with the name Smith at Oxford than all black students combined.
Critics have noted that when other factors like socio-economic class, school type, and previous educational attainment are taken into account, white British students are the least likely to go to university, reports Joanna Williams of the Telegraph. Applicants from disadvantaged groups are already increasing to record levels, and Williams believes that it’s low expectations for working class children that are perpetuating this inequality.