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Universities: BME Students

Volume 606: debated on Thursday 25 February 2016

3. What steps the Government are taking to increase the number of BME young people receiving a university education. (903737)

The Prime Minister, as we have just heard in respect of apprenticeships, has set a goal of increasing by 20% the number of BME students in higher education. In our new guidelines to the director of fair access, which we published on 11 February, we ask him to maximise the contribution of access agreements towards that ambition. The share of BME enrolments at the United Kingdom’s institutions has already risen by just over 20% to 23% between 2009 and 2015. Expenditure to widen access through agreements is expected to reach £746 million in 2016-17, up from £444 million in 2011.

Many gifted BME young people in my constituency and across the country who have lived here all their lives and are lawfully and legally resident in the UK, and who have made their way through the UK education system, are effectively prohibited from accessing the student finance support that would allow them to progress to higher education because they do not have settled immigration status. Will the Minister take steps to ensure that the Government introduce new eligibility criteria as a matter of urgency, to ensure that all our young people have the opportunity to make the most of their talents this academic year?

The hon. Gentleman seems to be making a very good point, which I am more than happy to discuss with the Home Office. I see that one of the relevant Ministers is already here, and we will have those conversations.

I welcome what the Minister has said about the figures for university applications. Does she agree that we must not take our eye off the ball when it comes to other routes, and that we must also encourage BME students to take courses such as apprenticeships and ensure that they have equal status in those routes?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. In the city of Nottingham, I have also seen the great success of mentors and the hugely important role that they can play not only for BME youngsters but for women. Mentors do excellent work, and there is good evidence of their importance. I encourage all Members of this place to go out and make sure that in our schools everything possible is being done to make sure that there is fairness and equality.

Research shows that while BME students are over-represented in university entrance figures, they tend to go to the new, post-92 universities. The Women and Equalities Committee heard this week that the Russell Group universities are poor at doing outreach to encourage students from disadvantaged and BME backgrounds to apply to their universities compared with the Ivy League universities in the US, which have a far better record on that. Will the Minister join me in seeking to address this issue?

The hon. Lady makes a very good point, if I may say so. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities, who makes the point that the London Academy of Excellence is a very good example. I must say that my nearest university, the University of Nottingham is—like Nottingham Trent University and many other universities—making a really positive effort to get into all our schools to make sure that all our pupils have every opportunity and that they, if I may put it this way, aim high.

The Government talk the talk of encouraging more black and minority ethnic students into university; yet, according to the Government’s own impact assessment, their recent decision to scrap maintenance grants will disproportionately affect those very same students. Does the Minister believe that this disproportionate impact is acceptable?

I am not familiar with the impact assessment, but I have to say that I am quite surprised by it. I reiterate the point: it is absolutely imperative that we make it very clear that everybody should aim high. That is what we want to do and that is what we are seeking to do.