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Oxford University admits need to improve student diversity after third of colleges accept handful of black applicants

'The truth is that Oxford is still a bastion of white middle-class southern privilege', Labour MP David Lammy says

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Wednesday 23 May 2018 10:28 BST
Oxford University has admitted it needs to do more to improve student diversity
Oxford University has admitted it needs to do more to improve student diversity (Getty)

Oxford University has admitted it needs to do more to improve student diversity after figures reveal more than a third of its colleges admitted three or fewer black applicants over three years.

The proportion of black UK students admitted to Oxford last year was less than 2 per cent – and more than a quarter of colleges failed to admit a single black British student in some years between 2015 and 2017, a new report from the university shows.

The data has been released after more than 100 MPs wrote to wrote to Oxford and Cambridge urging them to take action to recruit more students from under-represented backgrounds.

The letter was sent in October last year after Freedom of Information requests by Labour MP David Lammy revealed thirteen Oxford colleges had failed to make a single offer to black A-level applicants over a six-year period, prompting him to accuse the red brick establishment of “social apartheid”.

The proportion of black and minority ethnic UK students was 18 per cent last year, up from 14 per cent in 2013. But the proportion of black students alone only rose from 1.1 per cent to 1.9 per cent during the same period, the Annual Admissions Statistical Report reveals.

Speaking on the Today programme, Mr Lammy said: “The truth is that Oxford is still a bastion of white middle-class southern privilege. That is what it is."

"They have to explain why you are twice as likely to get in if you are white as if you are black and why you are more likely to get in if you are from the South than the North of England when you apply.

Samina Khan, Oxford University’s director of undergraduate admissions, acknowledged white British students were twice as likely to be admitted as black British students, but said the university was working hard to change.

"The reason for that is that you are looking a very different applicant pools. One is very large - that is the white pool in terms of who gets three As and above (at a A-level) - and the other one is very small," she told the Today programme.

"We are not getting the right number of black people with the talent to apply to us and that is why we are pushing very hard on our outreach activity to make sure we make them feel welcome and they realise Oxford is for them."

The university has admitted it “still has more work to do in attracting the most talented students from all backgrounds” and said it recognises the report shows it needs to “make more progress”.

The report also found the proportion of UK undergraduates from the most disadvantaged backgrounds was 11 per cent in 2017. This was an increase from 7 per cent in 2013.

Meanwhile, there was a marginal increase in the number of admissions from state schools during the same period, from 57 per cent in 2013 to 58 per cent in 2017.

Overall, just under half (48 per cent) of UK students admitted to Oxford University over the three-year period were from London and the south east – compared to just 2 per cent from the north east.

Mr Lammy said the data showed very little had changed and he added that it was “unacceptable” that black students make up less than 1 per cent of the intake at some of the Oxford colleges.

He said: “The university is clearly happy to see Oxford remain an institution defined by entrenched privilege that is the preserve of wealthy white students from London and the south east.

Mr Lammy, the former higher education minister, added: “If Oxford is serious about access, the university needs to put its money where its mouth is and introduce a University-wide foundation year, get a lot better at encouraging talented students from under-represented backgrounds to apply and use contextual data when making offers, not just when granting interviews.

“The underprivileged kid from a state school in Sunderland or Rochdale who gets straights As is more talented than their contemporary with the same grades at Eton or Harrow, and all the academic evidences shows that they fair outshine their peers at university too.”

Professor Louise Richardson, vice-chancellor of Oxford University, wrote in the report: “The picture that emerges from the statistics is of a university which is changing; evolving fast for an institution of its age and standing, but perhaps too slowly to meet public expectations.

“It is a picture of progress on a great many fronts, but with work remaining to be done.”

The university's colleges have agreed to establish a new scheme which will fund in advance the interview travel fees of applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The institution has also added 500 more places to its spring and summer school programme for students from under-represented backgrounds. They allow prospective A-level students from disadvantaged backgrounds to spend a week at the university and receive advice.

Students who attended the programme, known as Uniq, have a 34 per cent chance of a successful application, compared to 20 per cent for UK-wide applicants.

Earlier this year, The Independent revealed that black students seeking a place at university are 21 times more likely to have their applications investigated for suspected false or missing information than their white counterparts.

Ucas said it is “extremely concerned” by the figures, released under freedom of information rules, and has launched an investigation.

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