Are white men a minority group? It seems like a strange question, but it’s one that has attracted some mainstream media attention in recent weeks. Newsweek, for instance, has discussed whether white males could now be considered a minority group in the context of academic admissions, and an article from The Telegraph even reported that Aston and Essex Universities have formulated programs deliberately to target working class white males.
But the inference these articles appear to encourage – that white males are a minority – is not only ill-supported, but a near-willing distortion of the real problem of classism on British campuses.
Whether intentionally or not, the articles rely on statistical ‘evidence’ that is manifestly misleading. The Telegraph article, for instance, notes that “in 2016-17, 27 per cent of the UK undergraduate intake were white males, down from 30 per cent in 2007-08”, but this is meaningless without context. In calculating this, what other groups based on race and gender combinations were used? It just doesn’t say.
This article is a classic case of “lies, damn lies and statistics”
The only point of reference for the reader is ‘everyone else’, with men of all races, shapes and sizes lumped together in one category. I think we can all agree that’s bad analysis.
The article also says that 123 of 149 higher education institutions have more female than male students. On the face of it, this seems a cause for concern, but the cited Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) report completely ignores the issue of race. And when white men are brought up, the report draws class distinctions on the basis of receiving free school meals, which is a rather blunt tool. To use a common adage, this article is a classic case of “lies, damn lies and statistics”.
Whilst schemes to help the working class disover university are undoubtedly a good thing, it is vital that we resist the temptation to automatically conclude that the ‘white working class’ are somehow worse off than the rest of the working class. ‘White men’ come from different countries, different backgrounds and have different ambitions. It is worth digging deeper into what the real issue is here, and I would suggest socio-economic factors should be our true concern. It seems obvious, but the rich, well-educated youth really do want to go to Anglo-American universities. If you want a reputable degree and ample opportunities for networking and graduate jobs (as well as having the wherwithal to pay for them), these universities are ‘where it’s at’ for many international students. Being a ‘white man’ on British campuses far from means that you’re a working class British youth – you could just as much be an Australian, an American, a New Zealander, or a rich Londoner.
Classism is the real issue permeating higher education
This hints that classism is the real issue permeating higher education, yet one that Newsweek only touched upon. For example, it discussed the upper-class dominance of elite universities, with eight top schools providing as many students to Oxbridge as three-thousand state schools. Indeed, the problems of state school are ones with which I’m well-acquainted. I’m not working-class myself, but I went to a state school dogged by underfunding, underachievement and mismanagement. Our sixth form teachers would occasionally confide with us about the political machinations turning overhead with cynicism and concern. Whether it was with council authorities or an academy trust, they would tell an identical story of terrible (and sometimes corrupt) management from senior staff, and an indifference or inability from authorities to instigate serious change. Far from being an issue of discrmination against ‘white men’, the real problem for education is woeful mismanagement in the state sector.
It’s understandable that people want to jump to quick and easy conclusions. I am not suggesting that all white males have it easy – far from it. But no one is really being limited by virtue of them being white or male. Income inequality is what defines our opportunities, or lack of them. Every day that we fail to recognise this and give in to false narratives, people suffer. And that’s an injustice that shouldn’t be tolerated.