White students who are left behind: the importance of place

Why are some white students left behind in relation to higher education participation, who are they and what help do they need?


Chris Millward

Thank you Mike for sharing your story and insights, both as a student and a teacher. You are quite right to challenge on perceptions about higher education for everyone - the blog is not intending to advocate this. It is, though, aiming to highlight the level of inequality between white students eligible for free school meals and other students in relation to higher education participation, and the causes of that. Higher education will not be everyone, but it should be open to anyone who wants to experience it and is able to benefit from it, in the form and the time of life that works for them. I don't believe that this can apply to only 16% of white students who are eligible for free school meals.

3 Feb 2021 - 5:19PM

Chris Millward

Thanks John (P), John (C), Michael and Jonathan for taking the time to read the blog and for your comments. I hope you are all well. Please do John (P) send me your research and perhaps one day we might be allowed to meet up on the Raleigh campus. You are quite right Jonathan to highlight the places within cities that have very low rates of HE participation. I tried in the blog to refer to 'parts of industrial cities' as well as towns. The interesting question is what are the common characteristics between those places, industrial towns and coastal towns. There is, I suspect, a common experience of the loss of jobs that had relatively high wages but did not require higher education, and loss of prosperity and civic institutions.

28 Jan 2021 - 2:54PM

Mike Seales

First a bit of history. I grew up in a northern coastal town, attended a secondary modern school before transferring to grammar school at sixteen. I graduated from university in 1976 and spent 37 years as a teacher in both the independent and state sectors. As a Head of Sixth Form/Deputy Head for more than 20 years I was closely involved in university admissions. In summary, I count as a white working class lad who bucked the trend. Here are some reflections on the issue of participation among white working class lads. 1. Boys who attended Sec Mods were rarely encouraged to have ambitions beyond shipyard, mine or some skilled trade. Some of this mentality still pertains in the age of the comprehensive school. 2. Parental hopes and expectations were critical to a lad's chances of "getting on." Many parents were not especially ambitious for their children. What's more, if they were not quite poor enough to get a full grant for their child, they would be frightened off by the debt incurred in sending a lad to university. Although attitudes to debt have become more cavalier, there may still be many parents who dislike the idea of a heavy debt burden falling on their children. 3 The elephant in the room: why assume that university is the best route for these children? It is not self-evident to me that mass higher education has proved of benefit to the many thousands of additional students who have attained degrees or to UK plc. Significant numbers earn much less than they anticipated and are burdened with large debts. At the same time, skill shortages continue to blight the UK economy. Who is to say that an apprenticeship as an electrician, plumber, plasterer or bricklayer is not a much more rational choice than reading a social science degree at a former Polytechnic turned university? If only such apprenticeships were readily available. Incidentally, I am not unaware of the non-pecuniary benefits of a university education, especially if undertaken away from home. 4 Sorry to be off message, but in my view UK education policy took a wrong turning when it became a "mass" system.

28 Jan 2021 - 2:36PM

John Perry

This is a really interesting, timely piece of work. I carry out research into the place and purpose of education, particularly secondary school education, in communities exactly like these, including Ashfield. I also work on the university campus where the Raleigh factory used to be. I would be very happy to discuss my research with you if you feel that would be of help.

27 Jan 2021 - 7:16AM

John Cater

Thanks Chris - as a social geographer I sign up to every word of this. But I will not be the first to note the contradiction between last week's announcement of a £20m cut in UniConnect funding and the positive examples you cite.

26 Jan 2021 - 1:29PM

Prof Michael Young

It's a serious challenge and our university makes a significant contribution to the 16% white British FSM quoted. Not least because we operate a very successful foundation year which addresses some of the inequalities arising from academic outcomes at secondary level, and we work closely with FE partners. How unfortunate that the good work of your office will be entirely undermined by other areas of mooted HE policy: as regards the future of foundation year courses, minimum entry tariff and worst of all the proposed Quality and Standards regime, which is de facto highly biased towards institutions with a high proportion of socioeconomically-advantaged students (whose graduate outcomes reflect lifelong advantage, not necessarily the quality of provision).

26 Jan 2021 - 11:02AM

Jonathan Neves

An interesting article. The notion of left-behind towns is a powerful one, but does this fully describe what is happening in some of England’s larger cities? Several of the data examples quoted are in large cities, including Sheffield, where the Brightside & Hillsborough constituency borders the Sheffield Hallam constituency which lies to the SW and features very high participation rates. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2005/jan/19/highereducation.accesstouniversity1 Can a city be “left behind” and “connected” at the same time? The concept of inequalities between areas that are next to each other is an important aspect. By understanding what drives high participation could this help in understanding and addressing some of the barriers to this?

26 Jan 2021 - 10:49AM

Leave a comment
Published 26 January 2021

Describe your experience of using this website

Improve experience feedback
* *

Thank you for your feedback