After Labour MP David Lammy observed that “10 out of 32 Oxford colleges did not award a place to a black British pupil with A-levels in 2015”, that “Oriel College only offered one place to a black British A-level student in six years”, and “Similar data released by Cambridge revealed that six colleges there failed to admit any black British A-level students in the same year”, he had harsh words for the two institutions.
As the Guardian has reported, “Lammy said the figures showed that many colleges at both Oxford and Cambridge failed to reflect the UK’s population, and called into question the universities’ claims to national standing … ‘This is social apartheid and it is utterly unrepresentative of life in modern Britain,’ Lammy said”. There was more.
He went on “Difficult questions have to be asked, including whether there is systematic bias inherent in the Oxbridge admissions process that is working against talented young people from ethnic minority backgrounds … there are almost 400 black students getting three As at A-level or better every year”. Very few apply to Oxford or Cambridge.
Lammy also made this comment on the Radio 4 Today Programme this morning: “Many more children coming from London and the south east, the children of bankers, judges, making their way to Oxbridge but children in our housing estates even if they get three As they’re not able to get in”. Even if they get three As.
For some within the establishment, Lammy’s criticism presents a challenge, while for others it is a chance to pooh-pooh criticism and claim that it is all someone else’s fault. The latter course was far easier for the loathsome Toby Young, who is skating on perilously thin ice when it comes to talking of those from a privileged background getting into Oxford. Tobes decreed that this was not the Universities’ problem.
“Reason there are so few black students at Oxford is because too few apply. Falsely accusing the university of racism will make things worse”. If they aren’t going to get in, who can blame them? Do go on. “I wrote about why there are so few black students at Oxford here. Public education system to blame, not Oxford”. If they get three As or better, it’s got very little to do with the public education system.
Could Sir make an even more lame suggestion? As if you need to ask: “Best way to boost the number of black students at elite universities is to set up more free schools like this one”. But Tobes’ own journey to Oxford illustrates the problem.
By his own admission, he only got in due to the combination of an administrative error - and the personal intervention of his father, Labour peer Michael Young (author of the 1945 Labour manifesto, though Tobes would rather not talk about that). He did not get the grades specified in his previous conditional offer.
Toby Young does David Lammy’s work for him, showing why black students might have difficulty getting into Oxford - there won’t be so many places on offer if someone else has been effectively pulling rank. Might have been best to keep schtum on that one.