White teenagers least likely to go to Britain’s top universities for first time ever

White teens are the least likely among all ethnic groups to go to Britain's top universities for the first time since records began

Published

Government data shows the proportion of white pupils studying at the most competitive universities by the age of 19 fell behind the proportion of black teenagers for the first time in 2020-21.

Statistics released by the Department for Education compare progression rates of state school-educated pupils to top universities, which are defined as the top third of higher education providers when ranked by the highest entry requirements, such as the prestigious Russell Group universities.

In 2020-21, 10.5 percent of white pupils from state school backgrounds were studying at Britain's top institutions by the age of 19.

This is compared to 10.7 percent of black students in the same age group.

White teenagers are the least likely to go to Britain’s top universities
White teenagers are the least likely to go to Britain’s top universities
Oxford University
Oxford University

Both white and black teenagers continue to trail behind Asian, mixed race and Chinese students for attendance rates at top universities.

This has been the case for the past decade. Chinese teenagers were most likely to attend top universities in 2020-21, at a rate of 40.7 percent.

Asian teenagers were the next most likely at 15.6 percent, followed by mixed-race teenagers, at 13.4 percent.

Lee Elliot Major, professor of social mobility at Exeter University, told the Telegraph: “Disentangling the factors driving this underperformance is difficult, but poverty, instability in the home and where you happen to live are all as important to white working class pupils as any other pupils.”

He said it was important to challenge “the assumption that the white working class is one homogenous cultural group” and it is “far from clear how much in common white pupils on free school meals have in Sunderland, Southwark, Scarborough or Southampton”.

He added: “A particular vulnerability for white working class pupils appears to be poor reading levels early in secondary school which stymies their subsequent learning. This is a particular challenge for boys."

A Russell Group statement reads: “Russell Group universities work hard to ensure anyone with the drive and determination to succeed at university can do so, and last year our universities took on 20 per cent more students from the lowest participation areas. We are also determined to support them while they are there, which is reflected in the high levels of continuation rates and future earnings at our universities.”