David Cameron was embroiled in a race row with Oxford University yesterday after claiming that only one black student had started studying at the university last year.
The Prime Minister made his comments while defending the Government's controversial tuition fees policy at an event in Harrogate, North Yorkshire.
Asked whether tuition fees of £9,000 a year would put off students from poorer backgrounds, he said top universities needed to attract those students. "I saw figures the other day that showed only one black person went to Oxford last year," he added. "I think that is disgraceful. We have got to do better than that."
However, Oxford University immediately issued a statement saying that the figure was "highly misleading". It referred only to UK undergraduates from Afro-Caribbean backgrounds in a single year – 2009/10. In fact, it said, in that year 41 undergraduates with black backgrounds were admitted to the university. In addition, 22 per cent of Oxford's total student population came from ethnic minority groups.
"The figure quoted by the Prime Minister is incorrect and highly misleading," said a spokeswoman for the university.
"It refers to UK undergraduates of black Caribbean origin for a single year of entry, when in fact that year Oxford admitted 41 UK undergraduates with black backgrounds."
The figure first emerged last October when Mike Nicholson, Oxford's director of admissions, said: "What is worrying is that only 71 black Caribbean students in all of the UK achieved three grade As [at A-level] out of nearly 36,000 overall."
Oxford is one of 27 universities to have declared that it plans to charge the full £9,000 a year tuition fee when the present cap is lifted in September 2012. Two-thirds of all the universities that have declared their hand are opting for the maximum.