Cambridge University slams Guardian’s discrimination claims

Madeleine Bell - Deputy  News Editor 7 March 2013

Cambridge University has spoken out against an article which appeared last week in The Guardian, stating that applicants from ethnic minorities were less likely to be offered places at Oxford than their white counterparts.

The newspaper claims the Freedom of Information Acts revealed that in 2010 and 2011, 25.7% of white applicants received an offer to attend the University, compared with 17.2% of students from ethnic minorities.

For specific subjects, such as Medicine, The Guardian stated that discrepancies were even worse, with white applicants “twice as likely to get a place as minority ethnic candidates, even when they had the same triple A* grade A-level scores.”

Overall, they claimed that “43% of white students who went on to receive three or more A* grades at A-level got offers, compared with 22.1% of minority students.”

The publication has been condemned by a Cambridge admissions spokesman, who said that the report has been misinforming the public with inaccurate data and flawed methodologies. It has claimed amongst other things, that the journalists have ignored a significant number of relevant variables which can determine application success rates.

“These include (but are not limited to) subject mix, the distribution of applications across subjects, and performance in the BMAT.  Comparison of exam results alone, at any level of detail, will not be a comparison of like with like.”

Wider problems are highlighted through an analysis of applications across UK universities in general, which show huge discrepancies within the ethnicities of applicants in the first place.

Public data has undermined the angle that The Guardian was attempting to take, and instead shows that the success rate of ethnic minority applications to Cambridge is higher in all but one ethnic group, in comparison to the success rates they enjoy across UK universities generally.

Data from the Cambridge Undergraduate Admissions Statistics publication 2011 cycle, which is publicly available on the university’s website, has shown that out of 9,128 home applications in 2011, just 174 applications from candidates identified themselves as of Black Caribbean and African origin. This was vastly overwhelmed by the 7,146 White candidates.

However Black African candidates also had a high acceptance rate for Cambridge when compared to other UK universities, with 16.2% of applicants being accepted in contrast to only 5% nationally. Even application rates for Black Caribbean students, who comprise the smallest group in Cambridge, had a far higher success rate than for applications across the UK as a whole, where statistics showed a lowly 1.6% success rate.

Home applicants with Chinese origin also had a greater chance at success when applying to Cambridge over other UK universities (at a 27.1% rate compared to 0.8%), whilst Indian candidates also enjoyed a 20% chance of offer at Cambridge, as opposed to 3.5% nationally.

Mixed White and Black African candidates had the best success rate for Cambridge applications at 43.3%, compared to just a 1% rate nationally.

White students however achieved a 29.3% success rate at Cambridge, although they have fared much better for applications across the UK, with 77.3% obtaining offers.

Results for the 2012 cycle have not yet been released, and will not be available until after the summer pooling system has closed.

As well as expressly denying any discrimination made on the grounds of ethnicity, Cambridge University has highlighted the progress made by the Group to Encourage Ethnic Minority Applications (GEEMA) since 1989.

A spokesman from the University proudly claimed that “Since GEEMA was founded, the number of UK Black And Minority Ethnic undergraduate students studying at          Cambridge has increased considerably. The full-time GEEMA Coordinator and current undergraduates work hard to raise the awareness of academically able (i.e. Gifted and Talented) BAME students in the UK that studying at Cambridge is achievable.”

Madeleine Bell – Deputy  News Editor