BME admissions in Cambridge: A statistical picture

When it was revealed that in the 2015 admissions cycle, six Cambridge colleges failed to admit a single black British A-Level student, I was disheartened, but not necessarily surprised. As a university with a history of elitism, and very strong ties to the ‘establishment’, it is not hard to see that there are a number of factors standing in the way of Cambridge being as diverse and welcoming environment as it could be. These range from implicit bias, to a very white-male-centric curriculum, to an image problem that may deter BME students from applying.

However, this was just one snapshot from one year’s application cycle. On its own, it could hardly be sufficient in painting a picture of the trends in Cambridge’s admission of students belonging to ethnic minorities. Therefore, I looked at Cambridge’s undergraduate admissions data from 2006 to 2016, and compared this with data from UCAS, to compare our admissions with those of the country as a whole. Though these statistics were not fully comprehensive (as this data was only compiled for UK-domiciled applicants), it was sufficient to give us a good impression of the situation. My findings were, sadly, much as expected.

Since 2006, the percentage of students accepted into Cambridge who belong to a minority ethnic group has risen by nearly 7.6%, from 14.2% to 21.8% in 2016. It is beyond doubt that this increase reflects a positive trend in terms of diversity in Cambridge – that is, until we compare it to national data. In 2006, the national average was 19.4%, which is just 2.4% below what the rate for Cambridge was last year. In 2016, the national average stood at just over 26%. While the national average grew at a slower rate, it is still a few solid percentage points above us, indicating that we still have a lot of catching up to do. In fact, at the average rate of growth over the past 10 years, it would take us over four decades to achieve parity with the country as a whole.

However, it may not be necessary to be so pessimistic. After all, it is only in recent years that these issues have really begun to be taken seriously by the academic body in Cambridge. Furthermore, the incredible work of students to diversify the discourse in Cambridge – in terms not only of ethnicity, but also gender, sexuality, disability and nationality – has to be acknowledged. Though this institution may at times seem archaic, the strides that are being made in everything from sexual misconduct policy to decolonising the English curriculum reveal a strong appetite for change amongst the student body. The statistics only tell us that the battle for equality and diversity in Cambridge is yet to be won.

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