Discussion about admission to Britain’s top universities should be seen as a small part of a far more complex issueby Jason Sarfo-Annin / October 25, 2017 / Leave a comment
Every black undergraduate studying at Oxford or Cambridge has asked themselves the question at some point—“Why are there so few of us?” The Guardian’s recent report on offers and admissions for black sixth-formers, based on a freedom of information request by David Lammy, highlighted statistics that would be thoroughly unsurprising to black Oxbridge students or alumni.
But whilst the focus was on the performance of the universities in widening access, a few people pointed out that a significant part of the problem was school performance prior to admission.
The new government ethnicity facts and figures website provides some insight. In 2016 approximately 30,000 sixth-form students achieved three A grades or better at A Level. 449 or 1.5 per cent of these students were identified as black. Oxford and Cambridge’s admission statistics show that the proportion of black students admitted per year has ranged between 1 and 1.5 per cent over the last five years. This, alongside the increasing number of offers being made to black students since 2010, appears to suggest that the admissions rates of the Oxbridge universities reflect the pool they pick from based on their grades criteria.
However, there are still valid criticisms which need some explanation and action from Oxford and Cambridge. There is no excuse for Merton College failing to provide any offers to black students for many years. The fact that this appears to have occurred both unchallenged and unsanctioned is a failure of internal monitoring and control. Also, the acceptance rates for black students is below many other ethnic groups.
There are two steps to being accepted into university—first, getting an offer. This part Oxbridge can control for and have improved. The second step is that the student needs to get the grades to meet their offer. This part is outside a university’s control, and there is data from UCAS which shows a growing problem here. A growing number of sixth-form students are missing their predicted grades. Students who are disadvantaged or from particular ethnic groups are at greater risk of missing their predicated grades. Black sixth-formers are a third more likely to do so compared to their white counterparts. Whilst it is unclear what is driving this, it may mean that a further increase in offers to black sixth-formers is required in the long term to compensate.
That said, adjustments for circumstance in providing offers already happens. Both Oxford and Cambridge use…