Before Christmas, a write-up was sneaked on to the BBC website about a recent UCAS report on representation in UK universities. According to UCAS, women are 35% more likely to go to university than men, the widest gap in history. Despite being a nationwide majority, the least represented group on-campus are “poor white males,” with UCAS chief Mary Curnock Cook saying they should be the focus of “outreach efforts,” according to the BBC. For this to come from the CEO of UCAS is ground-breaking. Why, then, has neither the University nor YUSU offered any comments on the report which was released nearly a month ago? I will explain the positive outcome of this, but also the issues of being “poor” and a “white male.”
The most positive reason is that it clearly shows huge successes in breaking down the issues which kept previous minorities away from universities. In previous centuries, universities have been dominated by middle to upper class white males. The efforts of activists, not just within the student body, have changed this foundation. Diversity has increased and accessibility is constantly improving. Fast-forward another generation and the situation for minority groups will be even more positive, thanks to the work of our own generation of activists.
But at the same time, it highlights how our universities are still caught up in the middle to upper class bubble. As much as the colours, creeds and genders of our student body is as positively diverse as ever, the outreach efforts are still solely focussed on these issues whilst ignoring the biggest hurdle we all face: wealth.
All universities, not just ours, should be pulling together plans to increase the accessibility of Higher Education to the poorer classes. They should be creating more outreach projects in deprived areas, showing the extent of financial support available from Student Finance, explaining that it is the degree educated, working individual earning £21,000+ who pays for it, not the working class “poor” student. Interest-free student overdrafts exist, as most of us use them to survive on nonetheless.
At York, the work of our alumni department and their tireless efforts in acquiring philanthropic funding for poorer students is largely under the radar. £100,000’s are raised annually and given out to poorer students. This needs to be screamed from the roof tops to all A Level students. The University should be increasing the amount of University-funded bursaries at the same time, taken from the millions in profit that has been made from the pockets of the middle and upper class student body.
Ultimately, I do not believe being a “white male” is a barrier. As much as being a “white male” has become a controversial subject at university, especially considering the recent debacle of International Men’s Day, the real issue is wealth. This draws on the ever present issue of wealth inequality, and the benefits and privilege gained from it. Wealthy white males are still a dominant majority on campus and throughout the world.
Many departments operate a system where they pay middle-upper class students to go back to their middle-upper class schools for recruitment. Should we not go to the younger years of schools in deprived areas, and work with them throughout to encourage people to be going to university?
Is it time for the University to invest more in increasing outreach projects, funding more bursaries and broadening their horizons?