Oxford accused of ‘social apartheid’ by Labour MP

Beatrice McCartney 19 October 2017

Following a freedom of information request by Labour MP and former education minister, David Lammy, it has been revealed that in 2015, 10 out of 32 Oxford colleges did not admit a single black British A-Level student, with Oriel College notably only offering one place to a black British A-Level student in six years. Speaking to The Guardian, Lammy said that this “is social apartheid and is utterly unrepresentative of life in modern Britain”.

Data released by Cambridge shows that, in the same year, six colleges did not admit any black British students. In total, only 1.5% of offers from both universities to UK students went to black candidates.

The last time such data was released was in 2010, which showed that in the previous year, twenty-one Oxbridge colleges made no offers to black candidates for undergraduate courses. Figures also revealed that in 2009, 89% of Oxford students are from the upper and middle classes, whilst Cambridge was not far behind this with a figure of 87.6%.

Only three Oxford colleges and six Cambridge colleges made at least one offer to a black British A-Level student in each year between 2010 and 2015.

Lammy, who was the first black Briton to attend Harvard Law School, argued that “difficult questions have to be asked, including whether there is systematic bias inherent in the Oxbridge admissions process that is working against talented young people from ethnic minority backgrounds”, noting that approximately 400 black students achieve three As at A-Level, but few apply to Oxford or Cambridge.

Also speaking to The Guardian, a spokesperson from Cambridge said that offers are made on an academic basis alone, with “the greatest barrier to participation at selective universities for students from disadvantaged backgrounds is low attainment at school. We assess the achievements of these students in their full context to ensure that students with great academic potential are identified,”

“Widening participation further will require government, schools, universities, charities, parents and students to work closely together. We will continue to work hard with all parties to raise aspirations and attainment to improve access to higher education.”

Oxford initially refused Lammy’s request for a break-down on the data on ethnicity in 2016, whilst Cambridge immediately provided the information. Lammy labelled Oxford as “defensive” and “evasive”, stating, “I have been pressuring the University of Oxford to publish this data for over a year and they have only begrudgingly decided to partially publish it now.” 

Attention has recently been drawn to the lack of black male students at Cambridge when 14 black, male students posed for a photo earlier this year, highlighting how only 15 black, male undergraduates were accepted into Cambridge in 2015.