Universities, like Oxbridge, fail to represent Britain’s ethnic diversity

“Educational success by BAME individuals is fundamental in ensuring the future of a diverse British society”

If one were to envisage the Oxbridge stereotype, a white, wealthy student fed by Eton would most likely come to mind. Whilst the UK’s top two universities have claimed to be erasing this reputation by promoting ethnic diversity, it seems reality continues to tell a very different story. 

Statistics show that successful admissions for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) individuals remains significantly lower than that of their white counterparts. According to UCAS, 2016 saw Oxford accepting 2180 white students in comparison to a mere 35 black individuals.  Similarly, the statistics for Cambridge revealed only 40 black students were granted a place compared to 2025 white students.

The absence of a diverse student population could not be further away from reflecting our nation’s ethnic make-up, not only proliferating an inaccurate sense of British reality but promoting feels of isolation for ethnic minority students who are highly visible amongst the majority.

A multitude of accounts of racism told by BAME students at Oxford and Cambridge further indicate the intimidating atmosphere created by some small-minded descendants of white privilege. Timi Sotire, a Cambridge student, told Business Insider about having her afro ‘petted’. Another student, from Oxford, was asked by a fellow student if she could be called ‘the n-word’ during her first week of study.

Manifestations of racism like these, whilst not always overt, continue to be products of systemic social barriers, disproportionally prohibiting BAME individuals from the same opportunities available to their white counterparts: a recent UN report found BAME households as twice as likely to be in persistent poverty than white households.

A poorer socioeconomic background makes it even harder for BAME individuals to afford the university lifestyle, considering that large proportions of Oxbridge students are from wealthy and privately-educated backgrounds.

In fact, an attainment gap between BAME and white students can be found across a number of universities aside from Oxbridge. One study by UUK and NUS found an attainment gap of 10-15% at nearly a third of British universities.

This stems from earlier obstacles in academic development with UCAS figures showing only 2% of black A-Level students to get 3 A-Levels in total, never mind the minimum 3 needed for Oxbridge entry.  Educational success by BAME individuals is fundamental in ensuring the future of a culturally and ethnically diverse British society.

Facilitating the opportunities for BAME students to graduate from elite universities would certainly improve this social imbalance and encourage ethnic minorities to apply for senior positions such as higher education; a field which is currently made up of only 10% of BAME professors with 0.6% being black.

According to a 2017 report from the Higher Education Policy Institute, the number of EU students is set to fall after Brexit brings the end of free movement, a move which will require students to pay the same high rate of tuition fees as current international students and apply for a Tier 4 Student Visa.

Research by the Financial Times has found EU applications for Cambridge to already drop by 14%. With steep finances and complex visa processes marking the future for EU students, universities will need to take much bigger steps to ensure BAME students have equal opportunities in the admissions process. Additionally, with a sharp increase in hate crimes occurring since Brexit, increased hostility towards BAME individuals is certainly on the cards.

The greatness of Britain stems from its vast range of cultural and ethnic communities. We must all do whatever we can to protect them.

Maddie Grounds is a political correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service; an organisation of immigration solicitors which provides legal support for students from overseas looking to study in the UK.