Record number of ethnic minority students applying to university, figures show

Applications to top universities from ethnic minority students rose to record highs last year.

Figures show that white students applying to higher tariff universities - institutions demanding the highest A-level grades from teenagers - fell slightly, amid concern about low aspirations.

Equalities data from Ucas shows there were 64,035 white applicants to top institutions last year, compared with 64,260 in 2016 - a dip of 0.9%.

But there was a 7% rise in students from Asian, black, mixed and other ethnic minority backgrounds applying to higher tariff universities between 2016 and 2017.

Students taking exams
Overall demand for university places fell by 2.6% (Ben Birchall/PA)

It means that 15,520 ethnic minority students aged 18 applied to top universities last year.

Overall, figures for 132 UK universities show 183,620 white students entered last year, compared with 29,355 Asian students, 12,630 black students and 10,590 students from a mixed ethnic background.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, suggested the slowdown in white students aiming for top institutions may be down to aspiration, and called for the gap to be tackled.

He said: "I think there is a problem of aspiration and also of wherewithal. In other words, some people have low aspirations and some people with high aspirations just don't know how to convert them into something meaningful because they lack advice on how to do so.

"This is obviously a very sensitive area and one where it is easy to offend people's sensitivities. But if one part of society is particularly susceptible to educational disadvantage, it needs to be robustly tackled whoever and wherever it is."

Figures also show that entry into higher education is at a record high for both men and women, but the difference between the sexes grew for the sixth year in a row.

Women were 36% more likely to go to university than men last year, researchers said.

Some 136,110 women applied in 2017, compared with 105,410 men.

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Overall demand for university places fell by 2.6%, driven by a reduction in the size of the 18-year-old population, but youngsters were more likely to win a place as universities responded by accepting a higher proportion of applicants, researchers found.

Ucas chief executive Clare Marchant said: "It's important that those applying to university are confident that their applications will be considered on the basis of their merits. Our data shows overall, admissions are fair. Applicants from all backgrounds receive offers at rates which closely match the average for applicants to similar courses, with similar predicted grades.

"However, these data also show that, while progress continues to be made in widening participation, particularly at universities with a higher entry tariff, large disparities remain between the groups entering higher education generally, and at individual universities and colleges.

"Overall, men, people living in neighbourhoods with low entry rates to higher education, and the white ethnic group, are the least likely to enter university. However, this is not the case at every provider. The portfolio of subjects offered, and the demographics of a local population, can be important factors in patterns of entry rates."

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