Oxford rapped over admissions

Catherine Watts 20 January 2008

Oxford University’s claims of an application increase from black ethnic minorities have been damned by a representative of the National Black Boys Can Association (NBBCA).

Though the university saw a 19 percent increase in applications from black British young people last year, Dr Tony Talbot, an NBBCA education and curriculum adviser said, “I don’t think Oxford is exactly setting the world on fire with its achievements”.

Indeed, while the university was able to claim an overall increase in acceptances from the “black” ethnic group, a study by the Independent newspaper revealed huge disparities behind this. Oxford’s figures were inflated, it was suggested, because of an increase in success rates from those of dual-heritage ethnicity. In actuality, the university has seen a drop in success rates from black British people of African and Caribbean background this year.

Statistics show that the number of successful British students of African origin applying to Oxford University is fixed at 20 students, while this figure drops to just seven for those of Caribbean descent.

But instead of suggesting more access initiatives, an educationalist and CEO of Generating Genius – a charity dedicated to encouraging young black people in Britain and Jamaica to study science – blamed the applicants themselves for not having the courage to apply. Dr Tony Sewell told the Independent, “They’re frightened of leaving the homestead.”

Dr Sewell went on to defend Oxbridge’s grand and potentially daunting environment: “People think it’s the gowns and the spires that are the problem. That’s nonsense. Oxford University is what it is.

“If you’re a black person, you have to learn how to survive, and being in a different environment is what education is all about. What do they want the lecturers to do – start rapping?”


unior Juma-Penge, Head of CUSU’s Black Students’ campaign, contested Dr Sewell’s comments vehemently. He does not believe that potential students are afraid of entering the Oxbridge environment. “I do not believe that they are scared,” he told The Cambridge Student. “What are they scared of? Posh Accents? I do not think so.

“The problem is to do with the environments from which many of the applicants come. It is usually a very difficult environment, socio-economically. The facilities that are necessary to foster an ethic of hard work – such as libraries – are usually run down. You go to places to Lewisham and Peckham, and you’ll find that many young black people do not live in an environment which is conducive for academic success. These are just some of the reasons.”

“I am apalled at the fact that he has taken on this assumption that black culture is all about ‘rapping’ – for a man of his supposed intellectual and academic abilities, he should know better. “The ‘rapping’ comment shows just how much he is influenced by stereotypes. He is perpetuating them.”

Catherine Watts