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Oxford University admissions

June 1, 2018

Following my campaign last year, on 23rd May the University of Oxford published its Annual Admission Statistical Report and announced that it will be expanding its spring and summer school programme for students from under-represented backgrounds.

 

The data illustrated glacial progress by Oxford University on diversifying its student body and very limited progress on access and widening participation.

 

Applicants from a private school are 33% more likely to get an offer than state school students, and White students are twice as likely to gain admission as Black British applicants. I criticised the University for continuing to fail to change its admissions procedures to combat this. You can read more about my response in my article for the Financial Times and here in The Guardian. I released the below statement:

 

Oxford is a bastion of entrenched, wealthy, upper class, white, southern privilege. We need systemic change, not more spin and PR exercises. That means foundation years, centralised admissions and contextual admissions. A summer school is in no way even close to sufficient in addressing the scale of the problem.

 

A minor, marginal improvement in the state school intake fails to disguise an institution that is more concerned with spin and massaging the figures than facing up to its own institutional failings and asking tough questions about its admissions process.

 

A 1.4% increase in state school intake over a period of 5 years is glacial progress. It is so small that it could easily just be a blip. 1.4% is just 45 students per year. Oxford also include Grammar school students to boost the "state school" intake figures. This is ridiculous.

 

The data I published last year showed that Grammar school applicants account for 1/4 all state school students, and that a student applying from a Grammar school is almost as likely to get a place as a student from a private, independent school.

 

It is revealing to reflect on what the Oxford press office has left out of their press release. The data I published last year showed that the proportion of offers going to students from the top two social classes actually increased between 2010 and 2015, yet there is no mention of this in the manicured data sent round to journalists under embargo yesterday.
 

You are twice as likely to get into Oxford as a white applicant (24%) than a black applicant (12%). Why? 1 in 4 Oxford colleges did not admit a single black student in a whole year group at least once between 2015-17. 8 colleges less than 1% black. Why?

You are 33% more likely to get into Oxford applying from an independent school than from a state school. You are twice as likely to get into Magdalen, St Anne's College and St John's College if you are applying from an independent school than from a state school. Why is this?

 

You are 5 times as likely to get into Jesus College if you are white than if you are black. You are 4 times as likely to get into Balliol if you are white than if you are black. Not a single Black student was admitted for Computer Science or Psychology in 3 years (30 applied).

 

For four of the biggest courses – Law, PPE, Medicine, Geography – you are twice as likely to get in if you are white compared to if you are BAME. Oxford need to address these institutional failings instead of spinning the figures and blaming the schools or applicants.

 

There are huge differences between the individual colleges on admissions of state school students, BAME students and students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Some colleges are working hard to address this issue, many simply seem to not care. They are just recruiting their in own image.

 

For example, Mansfield and LMH are taking double the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds as a % of their intake compared to Exeter and Trinity How is this acceptable? 

 

It is totally wrong that the University claims to be committed to improving access whilst a handful of colleges take 50-100% more students from disadvantaged areas and areas with low progression to higher education than some of their counterparts. Placing admissions in the hands of a college system prevents any real or systemic progress. It is time to move away from the highly-subjective college-based system and centralise admissions.

If Oxford is serious about access the University needs to put its money where its mouth is and introduce a University-wide foundation year, get a lot better at enoucraging talented students from under-represented backgrounds to apply and use contextual data when making offers, not just when granting interviews. The underprivileged kid from a state school in Sunderland or Rochdale who gets straights As is more talented their contemporary with the same grades at Eton or Harrow, and all the academic evidences shows that they fair outshine their peers at university too.

The geographic divide is shocking at a time when London and the South East represent a bigger share of our national economic output than at any point in our history and Brexit revealed deep frustrations with our deeply imbalanced economy. Oxford tries to explain away its regional bias towards London and the South East by pointing out that more applications come from those regions. For every Londoner that gets straight A’s in their A-Levels, 1.4 apply to Oxford but in Yorkshire this falls to 0.75. Oxford’s own data shows that double the proportion of straight A students from London get into Oxford compared to students getting straight As in Yorkshire and the North West.

Whatever Oxford is doing to try to encourage talented students in seaside towns and former industrial heartlands in the North, the Midlands and Wales to apply it is clearly not working. Instead of relying on undergraduate students Oxford should learn from their US Ivy League counterparts, hire experienced professionals and base them in under-represented parts of the country to find the most talented students. The University should learn from what works at colleges that are making progress and hold colleges to account when they fail to improve.

Oxford is supposed to be a national university yet is abjectly failing to live up to this role and the Government must review whether it can continue to fund Oxford to the tune of hundreds of millions every year in taxpayers money.

Oxford continues to take the overwhelming majority of its students from a small, privileged minority in the south of England. We need systemic change, not piecemeal PR exercises that fail to get to the grips with the fact that Oxford is an elitist institution, drawing up the ladder to success and reinforcing centuries of entrenched privilege.

 

 

 

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David Lammy

From Tottenham. For Tottenham.