Oxford, Cambridge Fail To Admit Black Students [UPDATED]

12/07/2010 09:31 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The U.K.'s two elite universities admit a paltry number of black students to their undergraduate programs, the Guardian reports.

Last year, 21 Oxbridge colleges did not offer admission to a single black student. Oxford's storied Merton college has not accepted a black student for five years. Out of all of its colleges, Oxford accepted one black student last year out of 35 applicants. Cambridge accepted six, according to the Daily Mail.

These figures were produced after a Freedom of Information Act request on Oxbridge undergraduate admissions by Labour MP David Lammy. The statistics also show that Oxford and Cambridge's social profiles are 89 percent and 87.6 percent upper and middle-class, respectively.

The racial disparity at the schools extends to Cambridge's faculty as well. There are no black people among the more than 1,500 academic and lab staff employed by the university.

An Oxford spokesperson told the Daily Mail that "Black students apply disproportionately for the most oversubscribed subjects, contributing to a lower than average success rate for the group as a whole," while a Cambridge spokesperson told the Guardian that "Colleges make offers to the best and brightest students regardless of their background, and where variations exist this is due to supply of applications and demand by subject."

UPDATE: According to a separate statement from an Oxford spokesperson obtained by the Huffington Post, the school has "very serious concerns" about the Guardian's report.

"School attainment is the single biggest barrier to getting more black students to Oxford. In 2007, for example, around 23% of all white students gained AAA, but just 9.6% of black students. This is a serious national issue," the statement reads.

The school also took issue with Lammy's interpretation of the statistics, saying that it was "misleading" and "out of date." The full statement is printed in full below.

What do you think of this? Leave your opinion in the comments section.

Oxford University has very serious concerns about The Guardian's report, especially the comment piece by David Lammy that accompanied it.

School attainment is the single biggest barrier to getting more black students to Oxford. In 2007, for example, around 23% of all white students gained AAA, but just 9.6% of black students. This is a serious national issue.

The last week has seen a number of reports underscoring the importance of early childhood and school years to entrenching inequalities in attainment. What Frank Field on Monday called 'overwhelming evidence' that children's life chances are most heavily predicated on their development in the first five years of life was confirmed again today by the Institute of Education, which noted the "strikingly large" performance gap between middle-class children and their less advantaged peers by the age of seven. These differences - which are a national problem - are not things that Oxford is able to address when it considers students at age 17 or 18.

When black students do apply, recent analysis of Oxford's figures show that subject choice is a major reason for their lower success rate. Black students apply disproportionately for the most oversubscribed subjects. 44% of all black applicants apply for Oxford's 3 most oversubscribed subjects (compared to just 17% of all white applicants). That means that nearly half of black applicants are applying for the same three subjects, and these are the three toughest subjects to get places in. This, not discrimination, goes a very long way towards explaining the group's overall lower success rate. Oxford is confident that is has an extremely rigorous and fair selection process and the University is certainly not discriminating against students on the basis of ethnicity.

Variations between colleges on black students described are not statistically significant. With only around 200 black candidates in total divided by 30 colleges, the numbers become too low to attribute any patterns to them, as any statistician will confirm. The figures cited by Lammy are not only misleading, they are now out of date as his most recent figures relate to entry 2009. As of entry 2010 it is not the case that Merton College has not accepted any black students in five years, and his figures concerning other colleges will be similarly inaccurate.

Arguably, the really shocking facts are ones which successive previous governments should be answering: Why do under 10% of black applicants to university nationwide have AAA excluding General Studies compared to 23% of white students (and 23% of all BME students)? And why focus on what's happening at age 18 when Frank Field and a host of other researchers have just said that what really matters is provision before 5 years old?

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