‘Racial exclusion’ at Oxbridge

By Peter Wozniak

Oxford and Cambridge continue to have extremely low rates of acceptance for ethnic minority and poor students, FoI data suggests.

A freedom of information request by former universities minister David Lammy found that nearly 90% of students at both institutions fell in the top three socio-economic groups, compared to the average figure of 64.5%.

The news comes ahead of a critical Commons vote on Thursday, as MPs vote on whether to raise the cap on tuition fees to £9,000.

Fully 21 Oxbridge colleges did not accept a single black student last year. At many Oxbridge colleges, the acceptance rate for black Caribbean candidates was lower than for white applicants.

One of the few exceptions was St Catherine’s college, Cambridge, where black applicants had a 38% success rate.

Oxford University insists that the lower rates of acceptance are solely down to black students tending to apply for those courses which are most heavily subscribed.

But Mr Lammy wrote in an article for the Guardian: “Our proudest universities were obstructive in responding to my inquiries. They provided patchy data, challenged valid requests and deliberately pushed back their deadlines until after Thursday’s vote.

“If Oxford and Cambridge are ashamed of these statistics, they are right to be. Rather than hiding from the truth, they should ask themselves some searching questions.”

The Tottenham MP’s figures also suggest exclusion is related to geography as well as race and economic status. For example, only 18 more students were accepted from the whole of Scotland last year than for the London Borough of Richmond.

The coalition has come under intense criticism that its plans for increasing tuition fees will deter poorer students from applying to university at all for fear of higher debts.

But ministers insist that raising the threshold of repayment to £21,000 combined with other measures such as an increase in scholarships will ensure students from poorer backgrounds will pay less.

Both Oxford and Cambridge say they are committed to encouraging applications from ethnic minorities and the widest possible social groupings.

The crucial vote on fees comes in two days, as the row over the issue threatens to deepen within the Liberal Democrats.

Mr Lammy added: “How can MPs allow Oxford and Cambridge to charge £9,000 a year without assurances that these institutions will do more to recruit from every corner, colour and class of this country?”