Oxford Lifts the Veil on Race, Wealth and Privilege.
For the first time, the University of Oxford has published data about its undergraduate admissions.
LONDON-The 19th-century poet Matthew Arnold spoke of its "dreaming spires." The honeyed stonework of its colleges has drawn the global elite of learning to its quadrangles and tranquillity.
Yet the University of Oxford has long been roiled by questions of race, inequality and privilege swirling through British society. Some of the conundrums about who gets to be an Oxford undergraduate surfaced anew on Wednesday when, for the first time, the 850-year-old university published data intended to challenge assertions that it endured as a place of white, wealth-driven privilege.
The figures showed: About 3 percent of the British population is black, according to the most recent census, but only 1.9 percent of the roughly 3,200 students admitted to Oxford in 2017 identified as black Britons.
That was an increase of less than a percentage point from 2013, when 1.1 percent of British undergraduates at Oxford identified as black, a subset of what the university called "black and minority ethnic" students, including those of Asian and mixed heritage, whose share of admissions rose to 17.9 percent last year, from 13.9 percent in 2013. The statistics do offer some startling insights: eight colleges - including some of the most prestigious - failed to admit a single black Briton in one or more of the years from 2015 to 2017.
David Lammy, a Labour lawmaker and former education minister who has campaigned against what he has called "social apartheid" at Oxford, said the latest figures showed that the university was "an institution defined by entrenched privilege that is the preserve of wealthy white students from London and the Southeast."
Cherwell, a student newspaper at Oxford, reported on Wednesday that the university had admitted more students in 2017 from a single London private school, 49, than it had admitted black undergraduates from the rest of Britain, 48.
That appeared to compound other inequalities, such as the preponderance of students from fee-paying private schools - known in Britain as public schools - in the south of England among the annual intake of more than 3,200 undergraduates. And among the slowly increasing number of successful applicants from state schools, the statistics were skewed because they did not show how many undergraduates had been educated at state-financed grammar schools.
Oxford's intake displayed a geographic imbalance between the north of Britain and the more affluent south, where the bulk of national wealth is concentrated. "Oxford reflects the inequalities - socio-economic, ethnic and regional - that exist in British society," Louise Richardson, the university's vice chancellor, said in a foreword to the report.
According to the Cherwell article, "17 of the top 20 schools for Oxford admissions in 2017 are fee-paying, while the other three are prestigious grammar schools." Additionally, the newspaper said, state-educated students tended to apply to the most oversubscribed subjects while applicants from private schools tended to apply to less sought-after courses, such as classics or modern languages.
At the heart of the debate is a perceived contest between demographics and academic excellence. Critics such as Mr. Lammy, the Labour lawmaker, argue that a student from a low-income area who gets good grades on the national A-level exams at the end of high school "is more talented than their contemporary with the same grades" at a top fee-paying school such as Eton or Harrow. "And all the academic evidence shows that they far outshine their peers at university, too," he said.
In an effort to help disadvantaged applicants, Oxford announced on Wednesday that it would increase to 1,350, from 850, the number of would-be undergraduates it admits to one-week summer courses to help them apply.
Alan Rusbridger, the principal of Lady Margaret Hall college and a former editor of The Guardian newspaper, wrote on Wednesday, "it's hard to win a place at Oxford." Last year, for instance, almost 20,000 applicants chased 3,270 places. "A great many academically able students will not be offered a place."
The debate in Britain seems more passionate than those in Germany and Italy. In France, However, highly selective schools that train the country's top civil servants, politicians, business leaders and engineers. Some schools have put in place admission programs that target young people from disenfranchised and poorer neighborhoods, which often have higher concentrations of immigrants.
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