David Lammy entered a Freedom of Information request to get Oxford and Cambridge to reveal information about applications and admissions.
The results (reported here) are appaling: Oxford admitted one black Caribbean student last year. 21 (out of 44) Oxford colleges made no offers to black students last year.
Lammy suggests the problem is not simply a matter of black and ethnic minority students not applying. Rather, white students were more likely to be successful than black students at most colleges at Oxford and Cambridge. This seems to be particularly so for black women:
The starkest divide in Cambridge was at Newnham, an all-women’s college, where black applicants had a 13% success rate compared with 67% for white students.
A spokesperson suggests that the low acceptance rates may be explained by the fact that black students tend to apply for the most over-subscribed subjects.
Class representation is also poor, as the data gathered show:
that Oxford’s social profile is 89% upper- and middle-class, while 87.6% of the Cambridge student body is drawn from the top three socioeconomic groups. The average for British universities is 64.5%, according to the admissions body Ucas.
From what we know about solo status and stereotype threat, there’s reason to suppose that such low numbers may affect the experience of working class and black and ethnic minority students at these universities. And there’s clear anecdotal evidence of under-representation putting off prospective applicants:
Matthew Benjamin, 28, who studied geography at Jesus College, Oxford, said: “I was very aware that I was the only black student in my year at my college. I was never made to feel out of place, but it was certainly something I was conscious of. …
“On open days, some black kids would see me and say ‘you’re the only black person we’ve seen here – is it even worth us applying?'”
And this is all in face of a fees hike…
It is worth noting that, as far as I know, both Cambridge and Oxford operate a ‘Special Access Scheme’, aimed at recruiting excellent students from schools which do not have excellent grade averages. One might wonder how effective such schemes are, in light of these figures.