Oxbridge and Britain


In January it will have been two years since I was rejected from Cambridge University. I blame this on my patchy academic record, my terrible interview technique, and the fact that I only considered Oxbridge at the eleventh hour of my time in Sixth Form. I went to a nice grammar school in Lancashire in the heart of northern England, a school that sent a fairly significant amount of pupils on to Oxford and Cambridge as well as other prestigious Russell Group universities. I don’t strictly come into the story revealed this week after a set of figures for Oxford and Cambridge admissions were released, but I do care about it deeply. This data was released by the University of Oxford and Cambridge University after several freedom of information requests by David Lammy MP. The statistics show that applicants for places at Oxford and Cambridge from Greater London and the south-east of England received 48% of offers, while the whole of the north of England (meaning the north-west, north-east, Yorkshire and the Humber) received just 15% of Oxford offers and 17% of Cambridge offers. Plus, last year just 100 offers were made to the whole of Wales. The scale of this regional divide is astounding but the division doesn’t stop there. Between the years 2010 and 2015 a quarter of Cambridge colleges eailed to make a single offer to a black British student.

Oxford graduates have made up ten out of fourteen British Prime Ministers since 1945. The BBC’s Chairman (Sir David Clementi) and its Director-General (Anthony Hall) are both Oxford graduates. The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Phillip Hammond) and Permanent Secretary to the Treasury (Tom Scholar) are Oxford and Cambridge graduates, respectively. It is clear that a degree from one of these universities can be so much more than just a degree, it can be a golden ticket to power (particularly if you’re a white man). Oxbridge graduates make up so much of our political, financial, and cultural landscape but the people becoming those graduates are from a tiny and significantly more affluent part of the country.

Of course, the issue runs deeper than simple admissions figures. Those in richer areas of the south that benefit from that affluence are more likely to be privately educated or to have tutors and the money for certain textbooks. The rich can simply afford to be more educated. They can also afford to indulge in those extra-curricular experiences that strengthen an application in an extremely competitive admissions process. Wealth opens doors that people of low-income background could never even hope to reach, and that is so utterly evident in these admissions figures where 31% of offers went to people in the top two social income groups.

The racism evident in these figures also offers a bone-chilling insight into the admissions process at Oxbridge and the wider issue of racism in Britain. I’ll remind you that mere months ago Cambridge was celebrating admitting more black male students than Eton college students for the first time. Admitting more black men than men from a single private boarding school being a cause for celebration speaks to just how deep this issue runs. Figures released this week show just how far these universities (although I am sure the issue runs just as deep in others) have to go in bringing about any semblance of equality in their yearly intakes.

Both Oxford and Cambridge have recently released statements saying that they work hard to ensure diversity in their intakes but whatever they are doing clearly isn’t enough. This recent discovery must not be pushed into the background, it must be tackled and handled responsibly by the powers that have the ability to do that.

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