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A matter of diversity

11 December 2010

11:34 AM

11 December 2010

11:34 AM

I was astonished by the Guardian’s story this week about the lack of British
African-Caribbean students at Oxbridge colleges. If we weren’t quite so blinded by the Wikileaks blizzard, I’m sure more would have been made of this. Hats off to David Lammy for
raising the issue. I suspect this is as much an issue of class as race, but it remains an aberration that Oxbridge is so monocultural and dominated by the product of the independent school system.

Like Alex, I don’t believe this is necessarily evidence of racism. The “Oxbridge problem” has always been that so few people from un-posh backgrounds apply. They, their parents or
teachers simply feel these are not institutions where they will feel comfortable. Mr Massie is right to point to the Virtual Economics website’s critique of the Guardian’s coverage of
the statistics.

In case anyone suspects me of primitive class resentment, I should at this point declare that I went to an independent school and a Cambridge college, where, needless to say, I was admitted
entirely on the basis of merit. However, there is no doubt that my school knew one of Oxbridge’s best-kept secrets: that the ratio of applicants to places is often very low indeed. If you
have good A-levels , the odds compared to any of the other Russell Group universities are very good indeed.

Oxford and Cambridge have made great efforts over the past two decades to diversify its student body. There is ample evidence that the prejudice runs in the other direction: inverted snobbery from
state schools who discourage students from applying.

However, there is another way of looking at all this. Oxbridge should not be happy to take its students from such a limited pool of talent. As an elite world-beating university it should make every
effort to reach out to the brightest students in the country, including those from the African-Caribbean community. I am now convinced that we should have a post-examination application system to
allow universities to know the results of the students before they offer them places. This would also allow them to reach out to high-performing students who had not considered applying to Oxbridge
or discouraged from doing so.

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