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All ethnic minority groups in England are now, on average, more likely to go to university than their White British peers, a study has concluded.
This is the case even among groups who were previously under-represented in higher education, such as people of Black Caribbean ethnic origin, and even when comparing students from different socio-economic backgrounds.
The research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, funded by the Departments of Education and Business, Innovation and Skills, found that Chinese school pupils in the lowest socio-economic quintile group are, on average, more than 10 percentage points more likely to go to university than White British pupils in the highest socio-economic quintile group. By contrast, White British pupils in the lowest socio-economic quintile group have participation rates that are more than 10 percentage points lower than those observed for any other ethnic group.
A report on the findings, Socio-economic, ethnic and gender differences in HE participation, updates evidence on differences in higher education participation by socio-economic background, gender and ethnicity. It also explores the extent to which pupils’ performance in national achievement tests taken at age 11, and GCSE and A-level and equivalent exams taken at ages 16 and 18, can help to explain differences in the proportion of students going on to study at university.
The research used census data linking all pupils going to school in England to all students going to university in the UK, containing over half a million pupils per cohort. It focused on those taking their GCSEs in 2007-08, who could have gone to university at age 18 in 2010-11 or age 19 in 2011-12 -- and therefore predates the increase in university tuition fees in 2012.
The report says differences in how well pupils do at school can help to explain some but not all of the progression gaps. In fact, pupils of Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic origin tend to perform worse, on average, in national tests and exams taken at school than their White British counterparts.
The report also considers participation at 52 of the most selective universities, and finds that most ethnic minority groups are, on average, more likely to attend such institutions than their White British counterparts. The differences are smaller than for participation among all universities, and could generally be better explained by differences in school attainment, the report says. Even so, the study still found that 34 per cent of Chinese pupils attend a selective university - higher than the proportion of White British students who go to any university, and more than three times higher than the proportion of White British students going to a selective institution.
Authors Claire Crawford and Ellen Greaves comment: "These results do not necessarily contradict recent evidence suggesting that ethnic minorities are less likely to receive offers from selective institutions than their equivalently qualified White British counterparts. Our research focuses on those who go to university, while evidence on offer decisions is based on UCAS applications data. If ethnic minorities are even more likely to apply to university than their White British counterparts, then it would be possible for them to be offered proportionately fewer places on average than White British students, but still go on to be relatively more likely to attend."
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