All Souls College in Oxford University, one of the members of the Russell Group / Getty Images


Oxford University has been accused of 'institutional bias' following figures obtained from a Freedom of Information Act request by the Guardian.

The report showed that, on average, white applicants are up to twice as likely to be offered a place as their ethnic minority equivalent, despite having earned the same grades at A-level. Applications to the university in 2010 and 2011 revealed that 25.7 per cent of white applicants received an offer for a place at the university, compared to only 17.2 per cent of students from ethnic minorities.

Oxford University has excused previous claims stating that ethnic minority applicants are more likely to apply for competitive courses, such as medicine. However the figures reveal that, while medicine is a highly sought after and prestigious course, white applicants were twice as likely to gain a place over ethnic minority candidates even when the same triple A* grades had been achieved.

The figures also revealed no 'statiscally significant difference' for the course of law between white and ethnic minority students. However, for their economics and management course-the university’s most competitive-19.1 per cent of white applicants received offers, compared with 9.3 per cent for those from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Previous data obtained by David Lammy MP made the headlines in 2010 when it was revealed that just one British black Caribbean undergraduate was admitted to Oxford in 2009. Oxford’s explanation of this was "due to the prevalence of black and minority ethnic (BME) candidates applying to the most competitive courses," Lammy said.

“This new evidence blows that apart. We now know BME students get fewer offers even with the same grades. Where there are interviews and quite large hurdles at the application stage, as with Oxbridge, it is for the universities to demonstrate there is not institutional bias. There figures suggest institutional bias, and certainly show sustained institutional failure.”

An Oxford university spokeswoman said: “Oxford University is committed to selecting the very best students, regardless of race, ethnicity, or any other factor. This is not only the right thing to do but it is in our own interests. Differences in success rates between ethnic groups are therefore something we are continuing to examine carefully for possible explanations. We do know that a tendency by students from certain ethnic groups to apply disproportionately for the most competitive subjects reduces the success rate of those ethnic groups overall. However, we have never claimed this was the only factor in success rate disparities between students with similar exam grades.

“We do not know students’ A-level grades when selecting, as they have not yet taken their exams. Aptitude tests, GCSEs and interviews, which are used in our selection process, have not been explored in this analysis and are important in reaching reliable conclusions.”

Vice-president of higher education at the National Union of Students, Rachel Wenstone, said: “My initial response to these figures was shock-this is quite frightening, and the university needs to deal with it immediately.”