SOAS failed in 2017 to admit a single white working class student

London university that boasts of being one of the most diverse in the UK failed one year to admit a single white working class student, shows document

  • SOAS, Uni of London failed in  2017 to admit single white working class student
  • There are concerns white working class boys are forgotten in education system
  • White pupils eligible for free school meals are half as likely as their peers from poor ethnic minority families to achieve strong passes at GCSE 

A university that boasts of being one of the most diverse in the UK failed one year to admit a single white working class student.

The startling fact appears in a document detailing plans to improve access to SOAS University of London.

The document says the number of white undergraduates living in poor neighbourhoods that were recruited through the main UCAS admission round in 2017 was zero.

The disclosure will fuel growing concerns that white working class children, particularly boys, have become the education system’s forgotten dispossessed.

The School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, which boasts of being one of the most diverse universities in the UK, failed in 2017 to admit a single white working class student

White pupils eligible for free school meals are half as likely as their peers from poor ethnic minority families to achieve strong passes at GCSE. They are also more likely to attend a failing school.

All ethnic minority groups in England are now, on average, more likely to go to university than their white British peers.

SOAS, where more than half of the intake is from ethnic minority backgrounds, describes itself as having ‘an exceptionally diverse student body’ and says its mission is to ‘recruit and teach diverse students’.

Yet its Access and Participation Plan for 2020-2025, which all universities must submit to the regulator to demonstrate how they will recruit and support under-represented groups, shows a worrying absence of white working class youngsters. 

The recently-published document admits: ‘SOAS had zero acceptances (rounded to the nearest five) from white students from low participation neighbourhoods via the UCAS main scheme in 2017. (This excluded clearing and direct applications).’

Jemima Khan at the V&A Summer Party, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK  on 19 June 2019. Mrs Khan is one of the university’s alumni

Coming from a ‘low participation neighbourhood’ – one in which few youngsters go to university – is one of the main measures of disadvantage used by higher education.

Other universities in London have admitted very low proportions under the measure. Imperial College recruited 30 white applicants from poor neighbourhoods in 2017 – just one per cent of its intake.

Conservative MP Ben Bradley said the figures showed a drive for ‘diversity’ was leaving white working class communities behind. 

‘Our institutions value diversity of skin colour more than background or experience,’ he said. ‘That’s a huge shame, but more importantly, it disadvantages the poorest. It’s simply wrong. On the plus side, I’m pleased that this is now being recognised, that these figures are gathered and looked at and that some institutions are trying to rectify things.’

A report by the National Education Opportunities Network (NEON) last year found that at more than half of institutions, less than five per cent of students were white and from areas where very few young people go to university. 

Graeme Atherton, director of NEON, said its analysis of universities’ 2020-2021 access plans showed only four had specific targets relating to white working class students compared with 27 in 2019-20. 

A handout photo made available by the Myanmar State Counselor Office shows Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi delivering a speech on State Television in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, 09 November 2020. Aung San Suu Kyi is another of the university’s alumni 

He said: ‘If they don’t feature, they are not a strategic priority and if they are not a priority, universities are less likely to do work with them.’

Founded in 1916, SOAS describes itself as the world’s leading institution for the study of Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Alumni include Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the socialite Jemima Khan and former Conservative Minister Enoch Powell.

A SOAS spokesman acknowledged the challenges of attracting white, working class students but said the university had improved since 2017 and it was now working with schools in London, Sheffield and Northampton. The spokesman said a different measure of poverty, the index of multiple deprivations, showed SOAS’s intake of white disadvantaged teenagers rose from nine per cent in 2017-18 to 14 per cent the following year.

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