The University of Oxford has come under fire after it came to students’ attention that a “British history” essay prize offers a substantially higher reward that its “African history” counterpart.
Undergraduates submitting their thesis for the Arnold Modern Historical British history award can win prize of £500, while the Kirk-Greene African history award winning essay can only win a reward of £75.
Second-year History undergraduate Billy Nuttall exposed the difference in prize money in a post on Facebook group Race Matters, created by students at the top institution to discuss issues of racial identity and racial representation in every areas including education.
In the post, he said: “Christ Oxford. rewards for best undergraduate thesis in British history, £500. Award for best in African history? £75…”
The message sparked reaction from more than 140 users – some defending the disparity between the two prizes, arguing that it was no surprise since the university was of ancient British origins itself.
Speaking to The Independent, Mr Nuttall, 20, said such disputes were more not uncommon and highlighted a deeper issue with racism on campus.
“People of black and ethnic minorities in Oxford feel “alienated”, he said, “the victim of constant micro aggression which make them uncomfortable.
“This situation regarding Thesis awards highlights this issue, but it is far from an isolated example.
“The university is attempting to make progress on such issues, but they need to improve their dialogue with BME students at the university in order to make progress on issues important to them,” he added.
At the beginning of the new term, Oxford University’s equality and diversity unit issued guidance to staff highlighting a problem with casual racism, or “micro-aggressions” on campus.
Scholars were warned they could be seen as displaying racist behaviour if they fail to look a student in the eye, or make jokes or comment on foreign accents.
Commenting on the History prizes, another student, Princess Ashilokun, said: “The disrespect has been monetised.”
Speaking to The Tab, she added: “Enough is enough, Oxford needs to get its act together, it talks about diversity and inclusivity when it actually has neither; if the university really wanted to change its attitude and start decolonising this space, with all the resources it has acquired, it would have done so by now.
“It’s up to us the students to start the change we want to see.”
Mr Nuttall said the difference in prize money was actively damaging to the university’s reputation and “sends a message to BME students globally that their history is not as important as British history”.
Responding to the concerns outlined, a university spokesman said the discrepancy had come about because the prize money came from independent sources, but that the institution had pledged to make up some of the difference.
In a statement, Oxford’s History Faculty said: ‘“Both prizes are funded by external donations, not by the History Faculty, and the discrepancy in their value is simply because one donation was considerably larger than the other.
“But we are conscious of this inequality and, as of this year, we are using our own funds to increase the Kirk Greene Prize for Modern African History to £150, in line with other prizes that are funded by the Faculty including the Modern European History prize.
“Increasing the prominence of African history at Oxford is a priority of the History Faculty. We are currently fundraising for a scholarship in African history for graduate students, we are engaged in curriculum reform which brings African history more prominently into our undergraduate curriculum, and we are participating in a project to create a new GCSE in African history.”
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