Creating a more equal Britain – get me, I agree with the PM!


university-of-oxfor_450 Times Higher Educational Supplement
Oxford – pic: Times Higher Educational Supplement

The University of Oxford, that fine bastion of education and personification of all things English, has come under the spotlight for its diversity or rather lack of following criticism from Prime Minister David Cameron who aimed his vitriolic at all universities, but particularly his former seat of learning, for the lack of representation among ethnic minorities and those from poorer backgrounds.

In his article in the Sunday Times which was reproduced on his Facebook feed, the PM called on all universities to take a close look at its diversity claiming that whilst the blatant racism of a bygone era is largely no more and indeed, we’re all relatively at ease with our open society, we have yet to see true equality in universities and, ultimately, the board room and public life.

A position that actually has merit. Me agreeing with the PM, who would’ve thought it?!

The PM also called for new laws to redress the balance.

However, we’re not talking quotas, the PM wants universities to publish details of its offers and admissions outlining the demographics from gender to socio-economic background which he hopes will result in more diversity as universities spread their offers more evenly rather than risk accusations of elitism. Now that’s a good idea.

Not surprisingly, Oxford defended its record on diversity saying 367 undergraduates from minority backgrounds were accepted in 2015 (compared to 3,200 undergraduate places offered in 2014-15). Although the figure was up 15% on 2010 when 319 students from ethnic minorities were accepted.

On its website, Oxford also proudly tells us that the majority of its students come from the state sector – 56.3% to be exact. However, that leaves 43.7% from private schools and when you consider only 7% of the school age population are educated privately (although this does rise to 15% at A Level), that’s a massive imbalance.

I read an article in The Telegraph that said there were myths surrounding entry to Oxford which included a bias towards students from the state sector as it was believed they were received more favourably due to government pressure. A spokeswoman from the university rebutted the claim and said state students were no less or no more likely to be offered a place than their independent school counterparts. Errr, clearly, love, the figures don’t back up that statement!

Oxford graduation pic University of Oxford
Graduation day at Oxford Pic: University of Oxford

In its defence, Oxford said it was unfair to lay the blame at the doors of universities as the damage is done much earlier in the education journey. True and, on the face of it, a fair point, but with around five students chasing every one place and presumably most would only apply if they had a shot at meeting the top academic requirements, in most cases A*AA, it can’t be that difficult to redress the balance, at least between the state and privately educated students, without diluting its high standards.

The PM observed only 27 black British students were offered a place at Oxford and he hopes his new laws will simply shame the elite universities into offering more places to people from ethnic minority and poorer backgrounds.

Whilst some data on admissions is already available, the PM wants more salient information including applications, offers and acceptances as well as comparing the A level results of those rejected and those accepted in addition to the social and ethnic detail.

He wrote: “Consider this: if you’re a young black man, you’re more likely to be in a prison cell than studying at a top university. Only one in 10 of the poorest white boys go into higher education at all. There are no black generals in our armed forces and just 4% of chief executives in the FTSE 100 are from ethnic minorities.

“What does this say about modern Britain? Are these just the symptoms of class divisions or a lack of equal opportunity? Or is it something worse — something more ingrained, institutional and insidious?”

He went on to say: “You can have a great start in life, but still be held back — often invisibly — because of your background or the colour of your skin.”

According to UCAS figures, in 2012, 46,000 UCAS applicants achieved AAA+ at A-level (or equivalent) in 2012. Understanding their socio-economic status, their ethnicity and whether they were privately educated compared to the offers they received would indeed shine a light into how our universities are offering their places.


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