Oxford University accused of ‘social apartheid’ for low number of black students

Oxford University accused of ‘social apartheid’ for low number of black students

10 of elite institution’s 32 colleges accepted no black British students in 2015; Cambridge, where 6 colleges took no UK black students, blames low application rates

Oxford University (Shutterstock)
Oxford University (Shutterstock)

A UK lawmaker accused Oxford University of “social apartheid” following the release of data showing one third of its colleges did not accept any black British students in 2015.

Labour MP David Lammy, who was the first black British student to attend Harvard University and formerly served as higher education minister, slammed the elite university for its discrimination, the UK’s Guardian reported Thursday.

“This is social apartheid and it is utterly unrepresentative of life in modern Britain,” Lammy said.

David Lammy MP (Chris McAndrew / Wikipedia)

According to data released under the Freedom of Information Act, 10 out of 32 colleges at Oxford did not accept a single British black person in 2015 — and that represented a major improvement over 2009, when 21 colleges did not accept any. At England’s other most elite university, Cambridge, 6 out of 31 colleges did not accept any black British students in 2015.

Lammy sought the information in 2016. Cambridge provided it immediately; Oxford finally released it on Thursday.

Colleges at Oxford and Cambridge provide dormitory facilities, as well as libraries, and often also host lectures, classes and labs.

Despite efforts by Oxford University to accept students from “all socio-economic, cultural and geographical backgrounds,” the data also showed that students from disadvantaged regions of Wales and the north-west of England were not accepted in significant numbers.

“There are almost 400 black students getting three As at A-level or better every year,” Lammy said. However, few apply to either Oxford or Cambridge.

Some 3% of the British population identified as black in the last UK census. Acceptance numbers for other minorities were on a par with the acceptance rates for white students.

In response, an Oxford University spokesperson said that fixing the issue needs “a long journey that requires huge, joined-up effort across society – including from leading universities like Oxford – to address serious inequalities.”

The university is working hard to improve its acceptance rates of minorities, the spokesperson said, and to encourage more high school graduates from those communities to apply.

“We’re also working … to show talented young black people that they can fit in and thrive at a university like Oxford. All of this shows real progress and is something we want to improve on further,” the spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for Cambridge stressed that the main reason for the low numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds was the low number of applicants.

“The greatest barrier to participation at selective universities for students from disadvantaged backgrounds is low attainment at school,” the Cambridge spokesperson said. “We assess the achievements of these students in their full context to ensure that students with great academic potential are identified.”

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