David Lammy’s criticism of Oxbridge, calling Oxford “a bastion of entrenched, wealthy, upper class, white, southern privilege,” strikes a chord at a university that has experienced multiple racism scandals over the last few years. Nevertheless, criticism is still aimed at Oxbridge for being traditionalist and very, very white.
Only last year, 14 black male Cambridge undergraduates posed for a photo together – only 15 black males had been admitted in 2015/16. Even including women, only just over 1% of students admitted in that year identified as black. Though the students involved explained that their photo was intended to set a positive example to other black young men, it does also seem symptomatic of a culture of traditionalism that can do more harm than good, dreaming spires notwithstanding, perpetuating white upper-class students’ privilege. Last month, Cherwell found that Oxford had admitted more students from Westminster College, an exclusive private school in London, than black students.
only just over 1% of students admitted in that year identified as black
Lammy called the figures “self-perpetuating”, saying that “if you’re on the 20th floor of a tower block estate and you’re getting straight A’s, you apply, go for a difficult interview… you don’t get in, then none of the other kids apply the following year.”
David Lammy’s FOI showed that about 80% of Oxbridge offers went to students with parents in top jobs; their parents are doctors, lawyers and senior managers. The University of Cambridge say that this is because they admit students based on grades only (and, presumably, students whose families can afford private schooling also get the best grades). Not only does this affect individuals who are less likely to enter top institutions – and by extension, to achieve the highest levels of responsibility professionally – but it affects the country as a whole, as Oxbridge grads are, in the end, the people who are going to run the country. 75% of senior judges are Oxbridge-educated, as are 59% of the Cabinet and 50% of diplomats, according to a 2014 government report.
it affects the country as a whole, as Oxbridge grads are, in the end, the people who are going to run the country
If these powerful institutions are so full of Oxbridge graduates, then their experiences seem likely to shape policies and rulings that dictate the life of the entire country. While Oxbridge may seem traditional, they remain key in shaping British society.
However, Oxbridge aren’t the only culprits. They are a part of a culture that disadvantages BAME and working-class students: in fact, according to an Exeposé Freedom of Information request, just 13% of 2017 graduates identified as BAME (the average for entrants at university nationally was 29% in 2015/16 – to be clear, the Exeter figure refers to students graduating while the national figure refers to students starting university, but the discrepancy should still raise some eyebrows). University management, from my (limited experience of) encounters with them, seem conscious that they have room to improve in terms of accessibility for BAME and Widening Participation students. Indeed, Russell Group universities that typically attract the most fortunate students are in a great position to create a change in society – by choosing who to admit, they can change the way that governments and institutions will look in the future; and for nowhere is this power as marked as it is for Oxford and Cambridge.