Are Oxford and Cambridge being racist? Part 2

What is the job of a university? To produce people who can think laterally, not literally; who can think critically and for themselves; who can mentally assemble information in a logical way, and transmit the information to others in a clear, concise manner.

It is not the job of universities to reflect the racial make-up and ethnic origins of the country. The job of preparing racial minorities for an equal adult life lies with the schools and it is the responsibility of the government to facilitate integration and education of minorities by making schools and their teachers first class. Yes, universities should quite naturally look like the population they serve, but youngsters have to be educated and prepared first – at school. This requires adequate funding. Education (true education, not learning by rote and taking useless tests all the time – something conservatives seem to love) should be the most important investment a nation can make. The Scandinavian countries got the message, why can’t the British?

Which brings me to private schools. In my last term at my own private school, I took part in a debate on the abolition of private schools, and, at risk of being lynched, proposed the motion before 600 boys: “This House would abolish all private schools”. I lost! Surprise, surprise. What I now think is that the taxpayer should fund such a huge improvement in State schools that private schools wither on the vine. Don’t abolish them; make them irrelevant. Then there would be a level playing field and we can forget the endless complaining about the present system, the unfairness, the vested interests, and the sniping. Ah! That will be the day!

  • Owen Bell

    Being at university myself I have quite a few thoughts on this topic:

    You’re right that universities don’t have to be representative of their country’s overall populations, simply because they cannot control who applies to them. But I do believe Oxford and Cambridge could do a little more to take into account the background of their applicants. It’s reasonable to assume that someone predicted 3 A’s at A level from a top private school may not be quite as intelligent as someone predicted 3 A’s from a struggling comprehensive. By factoring in an applicant’s background, Oxford and Cambridge could be more socially representative without sacrificing academic excellence.

    In the case of racial minorities specifically, it’s true that black students are underrepresented at Oxford and Cambridge. But the UK is not the US- black people are a much smaller proportion of the overall population, so the discrepancy is a very small percentage relative to the overall student body. By only focusing on black people at Oxford and Cambridge, the media has missed the bigger picture- ethnic minorities at universities as a whole. The fact is that ethnic minorities are more likely than the general population to be at university, mostly because the white working class is hopelessly underrepresented. Because ethnic minorities are more likely to want to go to universities in the bigger cities (partly because of the greater diversity there), some universities will always lack minority students. Exeter, a small down in Devon where I am, is one such place.

    I also think there’s an obsession with Oxford and Cambridge. The fact is that student’s future earnings have far more to do with which subject they study than where they study it at. On average, an engineering student at Southampton will earn far more than an art student at Cambridge. Rather than judging the state of British higher education by Oxford and Cambridge’s demographics, we should ensure that students of all abilities can get to the universities that best suit them.