Higher education (HE) participation for every ethnic group has increased measurably over the last 10 years apart from those of Gypsy, Romany and Traveller Communities and there is little, if any evidence of systematic commitment from higher education policymakers or institutions to addressing this problem.
A new report from the Sir John Cass’s Foundation, authored by Dr. Graeme Atherton, Director of the National Education Opportunities Network; ‘More than luck: enabling access and success in Higher Education for Gypsy, Romany and Traveller (GRT) communities’, examines the inequalities and higher education participation experience by GRT communities and the extent to which the higher education sector is addressing these.
It shows that:
- From 2009-2010 to 2018-19 the percentage of school pupils who are Travellers of Irish heritage entering HE by age 19 had declined by 1.1% while for Gypsy, Roma young pupils it had increased marginally by 1.8% but had declined by 0.2% since 2016-17. Given that since 2009-10 overall participation had increased by 8.6% over this period the proportion of students entering HE from Gypsy/Roma background by this measure is shrinking.
- Of the Access and Participation plan (APPs) covering 2020-21 to 2024-25, which outline what higher education providers do to extend access to their institutions, none contain any targets to increase entry rates for students from GRT communities or support their success on entry.
- Only 5% of these plans include any reference to GRT communities at all.
- London has the highest number of learners aged 18-30 from any region in England progressing to HE and nearly 70% of learners from London going to HE are from Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds. However, only 2 London HE providers mention GRT communities in their Access and Participation Plans.
The report recommends that:
- All HE providers should outline how they are supporting access and participation for GRT learners in their annual APP statements to the Office for Students.
- A national GRT HE access and participation initiative should be established with funding from the Office for Students.
- All HE providers should adopt a new, national pledge to address inequalities effecting GRT learners in their institutions committing to work to support their entry into HE.
- There should be a focus on access to HE for GRT community learners in the national strategy to tackle Gypsy, Roma and Traveller inequalities.
- The Mayor of London should establish a GRT education task force bringing together school, colleges, universities and representatives of GRT communities.
As Dr. Atherton states
‘The disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on learners from minority ethnic and low income backgrounds is well documented. It will only exacerbate the challenges facing GRT communities progressing to HE. They are a group wilfully ignored by the higher education sector. This cannot and must not go on’.