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Oxford Accused of ‘Social Apartheid’ After Data Shows It Failed to Admit Any Qualified Black Students


The University of Oxford said Black and other minority students made up 15.9 percent of its student intake last year. (Image courtesy of DIliff)

Former UK education minister David Lammy is blasting the University of Oxford after nearly one in three of its colleges failed to admit a single Black British A-level student in 2015.

According to recent data published by the British university, 10 out of 32 Oxford colleges didn’t award a place at their institutions to Black pupils with Advanced Levels, or A–levels, a secondary school qualification in the UK.

Oriel College, a constituent college of Oxford, has only offered one place to a Black A-level student in six years, The Guardian reported. The University of Cambridge was also lacking in admittance of advanced-level Black students, revealing in its own recent report that six of its colleges had failed to admit advanced Black students there.

“This is social apartheid and it is utterly unrepresentative of life in modern Britain,” Lammy said, blasting the universities’ admissions practices and lack of effort to increase diversity.

On Friday, the parliamentarian accused both colleges of “trying to make journalists change their stories” rather than address their poor recruitment of qualified Black students across England and Wales. Lammy first requested the schools’ ethnicity data back in 2016, which Oxford finally handed over Thursday, Oct. 19. Cambridge provided theirs immediately.

Aside from a largely white student body with just 1.5 percent of offers going to Black A-level students, the data from both universities also revealed a stark regional and socio-economic disparity in their student intake. Some critics have accused the institutions of being “elitist,” as four-fifths of students accepted at “Oxbridge” between 2015 and 2016 came from families in Britain’s top two social classes, according to the data. More offers were also made to students in Home Counties (the seven counties surrounding London) than in all of northern England.

All in all, only three Oxford colleges and six Cambridge colleges made at least one offer to a Black British A-level student in each of the years between 2010 and 2015, The Guardian reported. As for Black students who did not have A-levels, about 3.5 were awarded places at Oxford each year during the same time span.

“Difficult questions have to be asked, including whether there is systematic bias inherent in the Oxbridge admissions process that is working against talented young people from ethnic minority backgrounds,” Lammy, the first Black British to attend Harvard Law school said.

He also pointed out that “there are almost 400 Black students getting three A’s at A-level or better every year,” yet still, very few of them are encouraged to apply to Oxford and Cambridge.

An Oxford spokesman responded to the parliamentarian’s concerns, saying the racial and regional disparities in its student intake may require a “huge, joined-up effort across society” to rectify.

The university said students from Black and minority ethnic background’s comprised 15.9 percent of its UK undergraduate intake last year, a slight increase from 14.5 percent back in 2015. It also said its offers to Black students have nearly doubled since 2010.

“We are also working with organisations such as Target Oxbridge and the newly formed Oxford Black alumni network, to show talented young Black people that they can fit in and thrive at a university like Oxford,” a spokesman told The Guardian. “All of this shows real progress and is something we want to improve on further.”

As for Cambridge, a spokesman there said its admissions decisions were based on academic considerations alone, as it spent 5 million pounds (a little over 6 million U.S. dollars) on measures aimed at working with Black and other minority students.

Lammy still doesn’t think the universities have done enough, however.

“I just don’t think the universities fully understand what they’re doing,” he said during an appearance on BBC Radio’s 4 Today show Friday. “Oxford spent £10m on this, and what we’ve seen over the last decade … is we’ve gone backwards on social class, we’ve made no progress on north/south divide and we’ve made little progress on race.”

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