Skip to main content
09th December 2010

University rebuts race allegations

Oxford University has rebutted claims in yesterday’s Guardian of entrenched discrimination against black students. The University’s response is reproduced here.

Black students and Oxford admissions

Labour politician David Lammy recently made a series of allegations about the small numbers of black students admitted to Oxford. The numbers are certainly low: in 2009, 27 black UK students were admitted to Oxford. Beyond black students alone, 22% of Oxford’s overall student body is non-white.

The University’s own research shows that school attainment is the single biggest barrier to getting more black students to Oxford. In 2007, for example, around 23% of all white students nationally gained three As at A level (excluding General Studies), but just 9.6% of black students. In 2009: 29,000 white students got the requisite grades for Oxford (AAA excluding General Studies) compared to just 452 black students.

Once black students do apply, Oxford’s own analysis shows that subject choice is a major reason for their lower success rate. Black students apply disproportionately for the most oversubscribed subjects: 44% of all black applicants apply for Oxford’s three most oversubscribed subjects (compared to just 17% of all white applicants). That means that nearly half of black applicants are applying for the same three subjects, and these are the three toughest subjects for admission. Take Medicine. After Economics & Management, it is the most oversubscribed subject at Oxford. There are about eight applicants for every place available, all predicted top grades. A massive 29% of all black applicants to Oxford apply for Medicine – compared to just 7% of all white applicants.

Obviously this raises crucial questions for Oxford about what more it can do in its work with schools, teachers, and prospective candidates about subject choice. But much has been happening.

State school applications have risen by about 80% over the last ten years. And when black students get the grades, they apply. In fact, black students gaining top grades are actually more likely to apply to Oxford than their white peers, which suggests outreach work is paying off: In 2009, nearly half of all black students nationally who got the requisite grades applied to Oxford – compared to around 28% of the white students with the grades.

Differences in school attainment are important not just in getting more black students to Oxford, but also in other areas: socioeconomic groups and regional spread. Knowsley in Merseyside, for instance, which Mr Lammy cites as failing to get students into Oxford and Cambridge, is the worst area in England for school achievement – only 1.4% of students got AAA or better in the most recent year (and no females).

“If Britain has become a ‘classless society’ then Oxford hasn’t got the message”, says Mr Lammy. But sadly for children from poorer homes and for many black students, the key decisions are made long, long before they apply to university.

Share this article