The Universities Central Council on Admissions (UCAS) has this week published new research on the demand for places at British Universities. UCAS is the organisation responsible for managing applications to universities in the UK. The findings for 2013 showed that there has been a 70% increase in the number of English black pupils applying for a place at a British university since 2006. In 2006, only 20% of black pupils applied to university and this has now risen to 34% and is the largest increase of any ethnic group during this period. English pupils from Chinese and Asian backgrounds have consistently had the highest rates of all pupils seeking university places, and this trend has continued. English pupils from a white ethnic background are now least likely of all ethnic groups to seek a university place and this is a trend seen since 2009.
The increased aspirations of black pupils are to be applauded as higher education is more likely to lead to successful careers and higher income. Well educated citizens with improved employment prospects, irrespective of ethnic background are highly desirable for the economic development and social stability of any nation. For ethnic minorities, who in the UK are more likely to experience a range of social, health, and educational inequalities, this is good news.
However, this success has been tinged by an emerging rhetoric which views this as bad news, and as threatening to the social stability of the country. Advancement in one ethnic group does not mean reduced opportunities for another. It is now two years since the introduction of increased university fees, and although this research suggests that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are applying for places in higher numbers than ever, further research must be conducted into why white British pupils are applying for university places. The other significant factor is the stagnation of the British economy during this period. What has been the impact on fears of white teenagers and families about repaying university fees? Are there differences in awareness and knowledge of the loan system in white teenagers compared with ethnic minorities?
There is already an ugly narrative entering mainstream British political and social debate, worsening since 2010, that 'outsiders' are taking away the NHS, school places, housing and jobs from 'indigenous' British people. Accusations that 'politically correct' policies exist in state schools to direct resources towards ethnic minority pupils, and disabled pupils at the expense of white pupils is another unsubstantiated claim that has been in circulation. It is important that higher education does not become part of this discourse and that achievement by all pupils can be acknowledged and unconditionally praised.