Topic briefing

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities

Last updated: 20 June 2022

The issue

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils have the lowest attainment in compulsory schooling of all ethnic groups, which in turn impacts their access to higher education.

To address the underrepresentation of people from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in higher education, providers must act on barriers to school success.

In the video below, Louise Morley from the University of Sussex gives an overview of Gypsy, Roma and Travellers’ experiences of higher education.

King’s College London, in collaboration with Rural Media, have developed a series of six short films that give a wider perspective of several Gypsies and Travellers in higher education as part of their Rom Belong programme.

Key facts

  1. Research commissioned by King’s College London shows that in 2014, 3-4 per cent of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller population aged 18-30 years accessed higher education compared with 43 per cent of 18-30-year-olds in the general population.
  2. A report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission highlights that the attainment gap in compulsory schooling between Gypsy and Roma pupils and white pupils has widened, but the gap between Irish Heritage Traveller pupils and white pupils has not changed.
  3. A review by the Equality and Human Rights commission found Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils are four to five times more likely to be excluded from school than the national average and there is a shortage of expertise to provide effective support to Roma pupils.
  4. People from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities encounter a wide range of barriers in accessing higher education, even for those who do complete compulsory schooling and achieve the necessary qualifications.
  5. In 2020-21, approximately 660 Gypsy or Traveller students were registered in higher education.

The total Gypsy, Roma and Traveller population in the UK is likely to be underestimated, meaning that underrepresentation in higher education is not yet accurately established.

In 2018, 19 per cent of pupils from Irish Traveller backgrounds and 13 per cent from Gypsy and Roma backgrounds attained GCSEs in English and maths at grade 4 or above, compared with 64 per cent of pupils nationally.

This indicates that to address the underrepresentation of people from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in higher education, providers must act on barriers to school success.

Key barriers to higher education for these groups include:

  • cultural barriers such as mobility, language, cultural norms, identity and a lack of belonging
  • material barriers such as poverty, inadequate housing, homelessness and access to healthcare
  • bullying, racism and discrimination in schools, higher education and the media
  • parental lack of knowledge and experience of the UK education system - this is exacerbated for European Roma due to the differences in the system in the UK and Europe
  • a lack of attention on addressing the needs of this group in policy, research and provision
  • a lack of relevance in the higher education curriculum to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller cultures
  • a lack of understanding about this culture among higher education staff
  • concerns that university could be beyond their ability
  • financial issues, such as a lack of knowledge regarding cost and available finance for higher education, reluctance to use official government support or loans and the impression that university is expensive and unaffordable.

Initial OfS analysis of providers’ 2020-21 to 2024-25 access and participation plans indicates that there is a need for a better understanding of the very specific and complex barriers faced by Gypsy, Roma and Travellers in accessing and succeeding in higher education.

Margaret Greenfields from Buckinghamshire New University made the below video during Gypsy, Roma and Traveller month in June 2020.


The term ‘Gypsy, Roma and Traveller’ encompasses a wide range of individuals who may be defined in relation to their ethnicity, heritage, way of life and how they self-identify.

This includes:

  • English or Welsh Romany Gypsies
  • European Roma
  • Irish Travellers
  • Scottish Gypsy Travellers
  • showpeople such as people linked with fairground or circus professions
  • people living on barges or other boats
  • people living in settled (bricks and mortar) accommodation
  • New Age Travellers.

Recognising this diversity is important to identifying, understanding and addressing the needs of individuals within these communities.  

Published 27 July 2020
Last updated 20 June 2022
20 June 2022
Updated number of Gypsy or Traveller students registered in higher education to use the latest data.

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