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University of Wolverhampton vice chancellor hits out over PM remarks on BME underrepresentation

Wolverhampton | News | Published:

A leading academic has hit back over the Prime Minister's claim that people from minority backgrounds are underrepresented at UK universities.

David Cameron said he wanted to nudge universities into 'making the right choices' when it comes to the recruitment of staff and students in a bid to increase black and minority ethnic (BME) representation.

He said the government intends to bring in legislation to place a new transparency duty on universities to publish data about applicants, the subject they want to study, and who gets offered a place.

But Professor Geoff Layer, vice chancellor of the University of Wolverhampton, said that BME students were already 'well represented' in higher education.

"It is unclear whether the Prime Minister is focussing on certain universities or all universities in his proposed actions to increase BME representation," he said.

"According to 2014/15 data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, 25 per cent of students in English HE were from a BME background whereas they made up under 20 per cent of the English population as a whole.

"So whilst there are different levels of participation amongst ethnic groups and by gender, there is not underrepresentation as a whole.

"The truth of the situation is that white males from lower socio-economic groups are now becoming the underrepresented group in HE, and also have declining performance in schools, a point missed entirely in the government's recent green paper on higher education."

Mr Cameron cited Oxford University as a 'striking' example of underrepresentation, which he said in 2014 had accepted just 27 black men and women out of an intake of more than 2,500.

Prof Layer, who is a member of the Social Mobility Advisory Group, said it was important to recognise that not all universities are the same.

He said: "Here at the University of Wolverhampton our home student body is broadly made up of 45 per cent from BME groups, 30 per cent higher than within our local population."

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