This year’s acceptance of 32 black students, the highest intake in ten years, has been given a qualified welcome by senior members of the Oxford African and Caribbean Society (ACS).
Acceptance rates of black students are up to 14 percent from 8.8 percent last year, however this still lags behind those of white applicants at 24.1 percent last year. This discrepancy is explained by the university as being due to black students applying disproportionately for the most competitive courses.
Despite the increase, ACS President Gillian Appau said that the university still needs to improve both in terms of the “perception that potential students have of the institution” and the “actual make-up of the student body in terms of the proportion of black students at the university”.
According to a university spokesperson Oxford’s black student intake of 1.3 percent reflects the percentage of black students getting AAA at A-levels.
Appau said: “Oxford University is taking steps to improve the situation, but evidently we are far from reaching the ideal situation where all bright students feel they have an equal opportunity to attend regardless of race or class.”
To improve the situation she suggested “enabling potential applicants from under-represented backgrounds to receive advice from current students of similar background, with whom they can identify and, hopefully, destroy any misconceptions about Oxford”.
OUSU Minority Ethnic Students and Anti-Racism Officer Chidi Onyeche described how the Universities approach to removing misconceptions could be improved, saying: “I think that Oxford, as a whole, is trying to discourage the perceptions of the university being a white middle classed institution but its approach at times can be misguided and limited.”
In particular, she described how access schemes, such as the target schools initiative, are often carried out when perspective students are too young and then “never followed up again”.
Onyeche also noted that Oxford appears to be focused on the success of school visits, but that they base this success on “the number of people that apply after the school visits take place,” instead of “how much closer we come to dismantling the perceptions and myths that surround this university”.
“A child who has learnt about ‘real’ Oxford,” she continued, “even if they are not eligible to apply, and portrays that to the people that they know on the off chance one of those people may have been contemplating apply to Oxbridge then that to me is what can and should be counted as success.”
Vice President of ACS Josh Oware said that the statistics were “unacceptable”, but noted that “this does not mean that Oxford is racist”.
Oware noted that the issue “is not just a black issue, it’s a class issue”.
“Problems of access apply equally to white, black, Asian and other working class or disadvantaged people,” he added.
A recent Oxford graduate Daniel Stone appeared to agree with Oware’s prescription. Stone told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that, when looking at the “overall picture”, “applying to university is too far up the chain. We have to look a bit earlier in terms of the schooling that they are getting”.
Oware argued there are three questions to be considered when looking at acceptance statistics: “a) Are back students achieving top grades? b) Are they applying for Oxford? c) If applying, are they getting in? These figures look at question (c) without considering the roots of acceptance percentages.”
When considering the University’s role in increasing the number of black students Oware said: “positive discrimination to keep the numbers up is the wrong prescription.
“Oxford only has the responsibility to keep the application process fair for all those who apply regardless of ethnic origin, sexuality, gender, ability or background.”
He further noted: “Oxford cannot change the opportunity structures and education standards in the cities, boroughs and schools where black applicants come from. These are deep-rooted, and historic, class issues that society must seek to address. Focusing on percentages reeks of narrow-mindedness and a lack of meaningful interaction with the real problem.”