Oxford and Cambridge need to do more to help racial equality, according one of Martin Luther King’s allies in the civil rights movement.
In a speech at the Cambridge Union on Monday night, the Reverend Jesse Jackson expressed disgust that 21 Oxbridge colleges had taken on no black students at all last year.
Rev Jackson, who was one of the last people to speak to Dr King after he was shot, also called upon the audience to “use their world-class education to make the world better off,” according to Cambridge’s student newspaper, Varsity.
He said: “You must learn how to participate in the world. Most folks are yellow, brown, black, non-Christian, poor and they don’t speak English.”
And speaking to the BBC ahead of an appearance at the Oxford Union last night, he said "the absence of blacks diminishes the greatness of these universities.”
"I'm concerned that when 21 colleges at Oxbridge took no black students last year, the students are being cheated of a multi-cultural and multi-racial experience in a world that is multi-cultural and multi-racial.
"One Oxford college has not admitted a single black student in five years.”
In 2009, he claimed, just six 'black Caribbean' candidates from the UK were admitted to Oxford, from a total of 2,653 new undergraduates. 35 applied.
In response, Rev Jackson called for "positive access" to increase numbers of BME students at top universities like Oxbridge.
"It's obvious in pre and early schooling that something is missing. Private schools have a pre-Oxford and pre-Cambridge secondary education. The poor youths don't have that so we must reach deeper to develop the youth in their formative years. It can be corrected," he added.
In a statement, Oxford said it spends £4.5 million a year on outreach work “to encourage students from all socio-economic and ethnic-minority backgrounds to apply”.
“To remain a world-class university we need to recruit the best students so it is not in our interests to exclude particular groups. Rev Jackson criticises Oxford for only admitting six black Caribbean students out of the 35 who applied in 2009, but in fact this success rate is line with the success rate of all applicants to Oxford.
“School attainment is the main barrier to getting more black students to Oxford.”
A spokesperson for Cambridge agreed that “prior attainment” is the biggest factor “influencing the number of black students attending highly selective universities”.
“In the UK around 315 Black students per year secure A*AA, our standard offer for admissions. This is around 1.2 per cent of all UK students securing A*AA or better at A-level. Cambridge admissions closely reflects this.
“Our Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) initiatives are now in their 24th year.”