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Oxford accused of racial discrimination in admissions

ENTRY BARRIERS: Places are notoriously competitive at Oxford as figures show for non-white students

ONE OF the world’s oldest and most prestigious universities has come under fire as figures released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) show white applicants are twice as likely to be offered a place in some University of Oxford courses than black and other minority candidates.

The comparison has been viewed as even more startling because those under consideration had the same A-level grades.

The FOI figures reveal that around 22 per cent of minority students who managed three A* results at A-level were given offers by the university – compared to 43 per cent of white candidates.

Medicine was one course which stood out as having significant bias against non-white applicants; white students applying in 2010 and 2011 were twice as likely to be offered a place.

However, minority students looking to gain entry onto the university’s economics and management course face more daunting odds – only 9.3 per cent of non-white candidates received an offer, compared to 19.1 per cent of white candidates.

Overall, across every course Oxford has available, 25.7 per cent of white applicants are successful, while only 17.2 per cent of minority students are admitted, or in other words Oxford rejects 82.8 per cent of applications from black and other non-white students.

The university has previously said the figures are composed in such a manner due to a higher proportion of non-white students applying for the most competitive courses, which means it brings down the overall success rate for minority candidates.

Yet Labour MP David Lammy said the FOI figures imply there is an “institutional bias” at Oxford.

It is not the first time Oxford or Cambridge have been scrutinised for their admissions process in relation to minority student uptake. Cambridge declined to provide its own most recent admission figures, but it did provide its 2007 and 2009 statistics for applications to medicine – showing a 35 per cent offer rate to white students, compared to 24 per cent for non-whites.

Oxford rejected the idea that the figures support the allegation that university ethically discriminates when considering applications. “Oxford University is committed to selecting the very best students, regardless of race, ethnicity, or any other factor,” an Oxford spokeswoman said.

“This is not only the right thing to do but it is in our own interests. Differences in success rates between ethnic groups are therefore something we are continuing to examine carefully for possible explanations.


ACADEMIC LIFE: The Radcliffe Camera, built by James Gibbs between 1737 and 1749 forms part of Oxford University's Bodleian Library

“We do know that a tendency by students from certain ethnic groups to apply disproportionately for the most competitive subjects reduces the success rate of those ethnic groups overall. However, we have never claimed this was the only factor in success rate disparities between students with similar exam grades.

“We do not know students' A-level grades when selecting, as they have not yet taken their exams. Aptitude tests, GCSEs and interviews, which are used in our selection process, have not been explored in this analysis and are important in reaching reliable conclusions”, she added.

Rachel Wenstone, vice-president of higher education at the National Union of Students, told The Guardian: “My initial response to these figures was shock – this is quite frightening.

“Quite clearly, there appears to be some structural discrimination in some departments at Oxford, and the university needs to deal with it immediately.”

Oxford student Jodie Reindorf, president of the Oxford African and Caribbean Society, told The Voice: “The Oxford admissions system has always been enigmatic. The statistics, however they are stated, are never in favour of BME students.

“Whilst it may be the case that there is some prejudice that works against BME students in the process it must also be noted that whoever you are, getting into Oxford is about more than just the grades; essentially the grades are just the starting point. It is clear however that there is something fundamentally wrong in the admissions process.

“Firstly there is a noticeable lack of BME tutors in Oxford. This is not to say that white tutors are always prejudiced but in situations where all candidates are of an exceptional standard, it is possible that tutors will go with whatever is most familiar to them.

“Secondly people are too ready to promulgate the idea that there are no black people in Oxford, and this simply stops people from wanting to be here. However my African - Caribbean Society (ACS) has around 300 members on its mailing list and 100 regular attendees,” the law student at Jesus College said.

“In my time at Oxford I've found that one of the main things that work against BME students is the ignorance of white members of the Oxford community.

"Furthermore there are some cultural differences that affect BME students to a whole variation of degrees. In my experience some BME students may lack the 'soft skills' that make getting into Oxford and staying in Oxford that much easier,” she added.

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