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Oxford and Cambridge’s failure to take in more black and disadvantaged students is ‘staggering’, says universities minister

'Years ago we were having the same debate about Oxford and Cambridge as we are today and that is very disappointing,' says Sam Gyimah

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Wednesday 06 June 2018 13:21 BST

Oxford and Cambridge's failure to take in more students who are black or from less privileged backgrounds is "staggering", the universities minister has said.

Sam Gyimah criticised the elite institutions for not doing enough and warned that they could be fined by the new higher education regulator if they do not meet admissions targets.

Mr Gyimah, an Oxford graduate himself, said the universities should not just focus on academic results during their admissions process to ensure they achieve more diverse intakes.

“It is staggering that we have the best minds in our universities and we still do not know what the best way is when it comes to applications," he told The Daily Telegraph, adding: “The numbers that we are seeing now disappoint me, and it’s disappointing because it’s been going on for too long."

His comments come after the two prestigious universities released admissions data showing that some Oxbridge colleges had admitted no British black students in recent years.

The latest statistics from Oxford show just 11 per cent of UK undergraduates came from disadvantaged areas, while the proportion of students identifying as black and minority ethnic (BME) was 18 per cent.

“Years ago we were having the same debate about Oxford and Cambridge as we are today, and that is very disappointing," Mr Gyimah said, as he called for more outreach programmes with state schools, highlighting that these children lack the coaching that their more privileged pupils have received at elite feeder schools.

He told The Daily Telegraph: “There are some schools from the age of 12,13, that are schooling their students [...] so that when they get to A levels it is part of their DNA. If you go to a school where this is not the system at all, you find it very difficult to catch up. You’re quite smart, you’ve got the potential, but there’s no one there to help you.

“What Oxford should be doing is helping those schools who do not have those inbuilt systems, to actually develop those advantages in those schools. If you don’t know those systems, you don’t have a hope of getting through.”

The University of Cambridge has said it needs support from schools and parents to boost diversity after a Freedom of Information request from the Financial Times revealed that six of the 29 colleges admitted fewer than 10 British black or mixed white and black students between 2012 and 2016.

Last month, the University of Oxford said it needed to do more to improve diversity after figures revealed more than a third of its colleges admitted three or fewer black applicants over three years.

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