Oxford Admission: all White, all Brown and all the Hullabaloo!

A recent comment from the prime minister, regarding the ethnic balance of new undergraduates admitted to Oxford University, appeared in the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday 12th April under the heading: “Cameron brands all-white’ Oxford a disgrace .

It has to be said that there is not a huge difference between the proportion of working class whites, from a, so-called, indigenous background (English, Welsh, Irish and Scottish), and black British people in the make-up of Oxbridge students. So this issue is not just black and white! However, among young black people themselves, Afro-Caribbeans are grossly underrepresented, and this is a reason to be concerned.

There is a direct correlation between the grades students achieve at GCSE and A-level and the University they end up studying at. However, there are all sorts of other factors affecting a student’s chances of being offered a place at Oxford. Those factors include: the course they apply to study; how they perform at the interview, including the way they speak English, and the reference they receive from their school.

There is nothing new in politicising the issue of Oxbridge admission policy: accusation of elitism, lack of upward mobility, and all the rest. It is highly likely that things will die down with no significant changes occurring. It is up to sensible parents to pay attention and educate themselves on how they can help their children to do well in life, which usually includes gaining admission and studying a useful degree course at a reputable university.

We must not delude ourselves from certain facts of life. All universities are not of the same standard and never will be. Some universities are in an elite group of institutions and their admission policies will be rigorous, but they should still remain fair.

It is evident that a disproportionate number of parents from minority ethnic groups, including Afro-Caribbean people, are prepared to spend a substantial part of their income to provide their offspring with, what they perceive as, a high quality education. We also know that among this group, the academic achievement of pupils on leaving primary school is higher than average. By the time they have left secondary school, however, they end up at the bottom of the pile – to coin a rather awful phrase. There is a very serious issue to address here. Whilst the support of the government and other organisations can catalyse movement in a positive direction, parents have the most crucial role to play.

I welcome the fact that more black students are applying to Oxbridge colleges than in the past. A lot has been done in order to increase the number of applicants from this group, and it has worked. The next stage is to improve the number who are actually offered places and to equip those successful applicants with the skills they need to achieve the required grades.

I am strongly opposed to a quota system to address the low number of Afro-Caribbean young people gaining admission into top universities. Educating parents and students on the reality of our society and making them aware of the “rules of the game is key; preparation has to start from a much earlier age. A lot of working class young people, black and white, do not want to apply to Oxbridge, as they do not feel they would be comfortable in that environment, which I believe is a terrible state of affairs. Many who do apply end up being disappointed when they are turned down, despite having been predicted the grades required. Branding Oxford as racist is neither helpful nor damaging in the long term. Politicians are saying what they need to say and the academics are sitting pretty in their ivory towers and applying any rules that they deem fit.

My message to parents is: pay attention, equip yourselves with knowledge on how to help to give your young ones a helping hand in life, and put what you have leant into practice. Whilst, of course, taking the young person in question with you along the straight and narrow!