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Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs more likely to go to university than their Christian classmates

Pupils who describe themselves as Muslim, Hindu or Sikh are considerably more likely to go to university than those who say they are Christian or atheist, a landmark Government research programme has revealed.

In a study of more than 13,000 young people by UK National Statistics for the Department for Education, 15-year-olds who say they are Christian were half as likely to go to university as their Hindu counterparts.

The statistics reflect wider research which shows British white working-class students do worse at school and are less likely to go on to higher education than Asian pupils.

At the top of the list were Hindu teenagers, with 77 per cent of those surveyed now studying at university. Young people who described themselves as Sikh at the age of 15 were next at 63 per cent, and Muslims followed at 53 per cent.

Just 45 per cent of Christian teenagers went on to study at university, while only 32 per cent of young people who said they had no religion at 15 carried on their education at university.

The Muslim Council of Britain said it was pleased that the survey recognised a "continuing trend" within the Muslim community, but added it was disappointed it was not top of the list.

Hojjat Ramzy, chair of the council's education committee, said: "Organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain and others have long encouraged Muslims all over the country to gain qualifications in higher education, stressing the fact that Islam upholds high standards and promotes excellence in every aspect of life."

Dr Ramzy added: "I was disappointed that the Muslim figures were not the highest out of the faith groups, however. This shows that our work needs to continue."

But Steve Strand, professor at Warwick University, said religion was just a "proxy" for ethnicity.

"The fact that white working-class pupils are the least likely to go to university and those from Asian groups are more likely has nothing to do with whether they are Christian or Hindu," Professor Strand said.

"It's to do with a number of factors, but (generally speaking) white working-class children and their parents often do not see the relevance of the curriculum or of attending university. Asian families, even if they are from difficult socio-economic backgrounds, see education as a way out."

Pradip Gajjar, a parent and one of the key figures behind the Krishna-Avanti Primary School, a free school that will open in Leicester in September, said he was not surprised Hindu children were the most likely to study at university.

"It's an aspiration. Hindu parents all spend that additional time with their children in terms of engaging them with education, so it doesn't come as a surprise," Mr Gajjar said.

"It is part of the tradition: education, knowledge, they have always been there.

"We talk of the 'duty'," he added. "The duty to perform, the duty to work hard, it is all linked to the culture of spirituality and discipline."

With only 45 per cent of respondents carrying on to university, Christian students were the worst performing of the faiths, but the Catholic Education Service said there were a number of different factors not related to religion that could account for this.

A spokeswoman for the service said: "When it comes to academic success the stats speak for themselves. Catholic schools regularly outperform other schools in terms of levels of attainment at key stage 2, GCSEs and A-levels. We also seek to encourage our kids to choose whatever line they would like, be it university, apprenticeships or work."

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