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C+: Race and Access

This article originally appeared as part of a C+ investigation into Race at Oxford. Other articles include a discussion of student responses to the migrant crisis, the “whiteness” of the curriculum, and analysis of C+ poll data

As part of its Strategic Plan of 2013-18, one of Oxford University’s commitments is to “ensure that our undergraduate and graduate admissions processes identify students with outstanding academic potential and the ability to benefit from an Oxford course whatever their background.” This shows that the university is actively ensuring that anyone from any background or race should have access to study in Oxford if they have the potential.

The university’s 2014/15 Equality Report shows that 24 per cent of Oxford students were of black and minority ethnic (BME). Compared to the 2011 Census data for the 18-34 age group, black students were under-represented broadly in line with the population of England and Wales. The university ranks in the lower mid-range among Russell Group universities, whilst London-based universities are leading in the rankings. This raises the question if access into Oxford is fair. Recent admissions data released by UCAS has revealed a continued racial deficit in Oxford admissions. Of the 2,555 offers made in for 2016 entry just 45 were to black applicants, compared to 2,090 to white applicants. Critics argue that raising tuition fees would further decrease access to students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Yet the University is doing a lot to help BME students increase their chances of applying, and ensuring that they get given the support they need in the application process.

The university works closely with Target Oxbridge, a free programme that aims to help black African and Caribbean students and students of mixed race to increase their chances of getting a place at Oxford. Following false media coverage about applications into Oxford, Target Oxbridge was established in 2012. The programme includes regular mentoring, interview help, and contact with an Oxford graduate for students who come from schools or families where it is not usually common. Speaking to the Cherwell, the founder of Target Oxbridge, Naomi Kellman said that the organization was founded because of a combination of factors—students weren’t aware that other black students applied, especially as the media coverage was off-putting, which made students worry if they would be the only BME student attending. It has cooperated with the university to begin a three-day residential course for more than 40 state school students with African and Caribbean heritage.  The university’s office for Undergraduate Admissions and Outreach is also working closely with an annual access conference in London, for high-performing year 12 African and Caribbean students. The conference aims to support students in making competitive applications to Oxford, and provides them with a platform to ask questions and engage with student role models of African and Caribbean origin. Dr Samina Khan, Director of Undergraduate Admissions and Outreach at the University of Oxford, recently told Cherwell: “We are aware that there is still work to be done, particularly in terms of offer rates to Black and Asian students.”

Yet, applications of BME students into Oxford are slowly increasing. Target Oxbridge has secured 46 offers for students into Oxford and Cambridge, which shows the positive impact of organizations to increase race in access into Oxford. Naomi Kellman told the Cherwell that “it’s no longer the case of worrying ‘Can black students go to Oxbridge?’ as this has definitely been proven, Target Oxbridge is more geared towards offering the support that they need to students who don’t have access to support.” Whereas a few years ago, there seemed to be a massive barrier in confidence, this is slowly changing. Target Oxbridge has received 150 applications, which has doubled from last year. The university is therefore doing a lot to increase applications, which it doesn’t necessarily have credit for. It cooperates with organizations such as Target Oxbridge in a hope to fulfil its plan to make sure that anyone can get access into Oxford if they have the academic potential, whatever their background.


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