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5th February 2016

BME students still struggle to access top universities

David Cameron condemned the reported statistics that only 48 African, Carribbean or mixed students were admitted to Oxford in 2013
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The debate at Oxford University regarding the Cecil Rhodes statue seems to have shed light on the low numbers of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) students attending top universities. In comparison to their White counterparts, the number of BME students are considerably fewer across the UK.

Here at the University of Manchester, almost a quarter of students are from BME backgrounds, exceeding the Russell Group average, but there is still room for improvement.

Between 2010 and 2015, at Russell Group Universities the number of Black students starting courses at our universities rose by 62 per cent, the number of Asian students rose by 28 per cent and the number of mixed ethnicity students rose by 43 per cent.

However Dr. Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group, has said: “We are far from complacent. Russell Group universities spend hundreds of millions of pounds on outreach activities in schools and colleges, and on bursaries and scholarships that support disadvantaged students throughout their degree course.”

As reported in last week’s Mancunion, in 2013, only 48 African, Caribbean or mixed background students were accepted into Oxford out of the total 2,233 places available. David Cameron condemned these recent statistics in The Sunday Times, and wrote the shocking statement: “If you’re a young black man, you’re more likely to be in a prison cell than studying at a top university.”

The Prime Minister highlighted that his 2020 goals are to achieve “not just greater numbers at university, but many more jobs, apprenticeships and start-up loans. And I am determined to fix that stubborn problem of under-representation in our police and armed forces.” He also insists that other universities should publish their statistics about applicants and successful students.

But there has been a considerable amount of rebuttal to this. An article in The Spectator argues that Cameron is wrong about who is to blame for lack of Black students in top universities and that Oxford University is not institutionally racist as the article suggests. Toby Young writes that, “even if every Black Caribbean student that applied to the University was successful, they would still only make up 1.34%.”  Young also highlighted that these statistics are fairly representative to the BME population in Britain. For example, the average amount of BME students at Russell Group Universities is at 18 percent, which is a direct reflection of the BME population of 13 per cent, according to the 2011 census.

In the same article from The Spectator, Young says to look at the reasons behind why fewer BME students, compared to their White counterparts, do not apply for top universities. He suggests looking at BME student’s grades at GCSE and A-Level before we deem Oxford University as racist. He also points out that BME students are more likely to apply to over-subscribed subjects such as medicine, PPE, law or economics—affecting statistics of BME students at top universities; explaining that this could be a reason as to why there are so few BME students at Oxford University.

The Runnymede Trust—led by the University of Manchester’s own Professor Claire Alexander—looks into race inequality and diversity in higher education. They have acknowledged an increase in BME students in higher education over the last twenty years, thought there is a concern because this increase has not really occurred in top universities. Runnymede want to encourage universities to aim for the “race equality charter mark” which aims to encourage BME students to apply to the university of their choice and do well in their studies.

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