SOAS University of London

SOAS statement following the Mail on Sunday article, 15 November 2020

17 November 2020

The article published in the Mail on Sunday on 15 November 2020, "London university that boasts of being one of the most diverse in the UK failed one year to admit a single white working class student, shows document", incorrectly claims that SOAS failed to admit white students from working class backgrounds in 2017. Our own institutional data shows that 50% of our students who enrolled from the lowest participation areas in 2017 were white students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Our institutional data shows the proportion of white students from the lowest two Index of Multiple Deprivation quintiles increasing since 2017 and the proportion of students from the lowest two Low Participation Neighbourhoods (POLAR) increasing since 2017 and being at their highest level this year based on our increased work and investment in this area (IMD quintiles are a measure on the deprivation of a particular area with one being the lowest and five the highest).

SOAS has a high proportion of students from low household income backgrounds, and indeed we had an intake of white students from IMD quintiles 1 and 2 in 2018/19 of 14%, up from 9% in 2017/18. Our Access and Participation Plan indicates an increasing proportion of working class students, and indeed we have consistently recruited more students from IMD quintile 1, than IMD quintile 5.

The reference to ‘SOAS had zero acceptances (rounded to the nearest five) from white students from low participation neighbourhoods via the UCAS main scheme in 2017’ has been taken out of context from the National Education Network (NEON) 2019 report (Atherton, G., Mazhari, T., 2019. Working Class Heroes - Understanding access to higher education for white students from lower socio-economic backgrounds) which is cited in our Access and Participation Plan.

The table in the report uses the ‘Low Participation Neighbourhoods' (LPN) metric which informs the Participation of Local Areas (POLAR) measure. The report clearly states the limitations for using this measure particularly for London-based institutions: “The relative lack of white learners from LPN attending London institutions reflects to a considerable extent the small numbers of low participation neighbourhoods in the capital. London is almost universally a ‘high participation neighbourhood’ area” (p13). This is a particularly important point as we recruit heavily from London which has high levels of participation in Higher Education (POLAR) yet extreme socio-economic disadvantages which are reflected in other measures.

The article also misrepresents and misuses the definition of working class provided in our Access and Participation Plan. SOAS uses a multifaceted measure, the Government’s Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) measure, for identifying the working class. Indeed, one of the report’s recommendations to the Office for Students is on re-defining widening participation target groups. It states: “Any effective targets would require the re-definition of widening participation target groups. The drawbacks of the POLAR measure come through again in this study. It is essential that either we move beyond POLAR to a more multi-faceted measure, and/or re-calibrate how POLAR quintiles are defined to bring all higher education providers performance into focus where all under-represented groups are concerned." (p30)

Again we reiterate that the Daily Mail has claimed, incorrectly, that SOAS failed to admit white working class students in 2017. We have a strong institutional commitment to supporting the access and success of students from a wide variety of backgrounds, including white students with working class backgrounds. This is evidenced not only by the work we do as referenced in our previous response, but also in that this work has proven to lead to increased proportions of underrepresented and disadvantaged groups at SOAS, including the white working class.

We continue to directly address the proportion of white students from the lowest IMD and POLAR quintiles. Some of these areas of work are outlined below;

  • Our sponsorship of The Access Project's programme in Wood Green Academy (in the West Midlands) which has a majority White British-identifying population. The programme works intensively with pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds to support progression to higher education.
  • SOAS partnership with The Elephant Group, who are committed to improving social mobility and fair access through the power of collaboration between school leaders, universities and the wider education sector. Having joined the London hub in 2019 and the Nottingham Hub in 2020 we are now part of this organisation’s drive to reach a larger number of white students from LPN neighbourhoods.
  • A community engagement Access, Participation and Student Success Officer was appointed earlier in 2020 with the remit to develop partnerships with community organisations in areas of low HE participation. Two partnerships are in the process of being formalised.
  • The well-respected Brilliant Club programme impact report for SOAS, whom we have partnered with for nearly 10 years, highlights that the majority of participants who we worked with identify as White. Almost 90% of participants in these trips are either Pupil Premium, from the 40% most deprived IDACI areas, or have no parental experience of HE.

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