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Uni staff should go to mosques and working class youth clubs to improve student diversity


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The chair of the Office for Students (OfS), Sir Michael Barber, has accused UK universities of 'passively waiting' for students from minority groups to apply and not doing enough to encourage applications from under-represented groups.


In an interview with The Independent, Sir Barber suggested that British universities should consider emulating the model used by California State University in the US.

The American university has sent staff to African American churches on Sundays to reach young people from demographics that traditionally would not consider applying.


Barber explained that staff from British universities should consider visiting mosques and churches to attract more black and minority ethnic (BME) students, due to the fact that places of worship can be 'influential.'


'East London mosque has more worshippers on a Friday than St Paul’s does on a Sunday,' he explained.


He also called on universities to do more to recruit students from white working-class backgrounds. Barber suggested that visits to schools and youth clubs could help boost student recruitment among working class backgrounds.


He cited an initiative organised by the University of Wolverhampton to partner with a youth centre attended by young people from white working class backgrounds, which he said had helped raise awareness of higher education among families from this demographic.


The comments come a few days after the OfS urged universities to consider student's backgrounds and upbringing as well as their A-Level grades when making admission offers. The regulator suggested that an increase in contextual admissions when making offers could help improve diversity on campus.


The OfS chair also explained that the most selective members of the Russell Group of Universities still had a great deal of progress to make on diversity issues. He added that the OfS wanted to see "significant progress...outcomes and results", rather than "just plans for doing these things".


He warned universities that the OfS would be monitoring efforts made by institutions to improve diversity over the next few months, and that the watchdog would take a "tough line" if plans were not effective or ambitious enough.


Sir Barber has previously threatened that institutions failing to widen diversity risk having their tuition fees slashed by a third.


The National Union of Students (NUS) has welcomed his comments.

Ilyas Nagdee, the organisation's Black Student's Officer, said that the OfS chair was 'absolutely right' to say that universities had been 'far too passive' on diversity in the past.


However, Sir Barber's comments have been criticised by the Principal of St Anne's College at the University of Oxford on social media.

Helen King accused him and Universities Minister Sam Gyimah of ignoring the full extent of efforts already undertaken by the institution to widen participation.


According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, 11.4 per cent of UK entrants to undergraduate courses during the 2016-17 academic year came from "low participation neighbourhoods.'

Featured image courtesy of David Antsiss 

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