Jesse Jackson, a key figure in the American Civil Rights movement, has criticised the Oxbridge admissions process.
He told the BBC prior to his speech at the Oxford Union that he feels it is in the interests of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge to admit a higher proportion of black and poor students than current records suggest.
Using the admission of six Carribbean students to the university in 2009, from the thirty-five whom applied, as a call for “positive access” systems, Jackson believes that it is possible to change the statistics, particularly for poorer students.
The former Democratic Party candidate stated that, in tune with similar comments he made whilst visiting Cambridge University, he feels “students are being cheated of a multi-cultural and multi-racial experience” when twenty-one Oxford colleges did not admit a black student last year.
However, Jackson believes that the issue “can be corrected”, by reaching out to “poor youths” in younger years, in order to combat the difference in schooling systems of state and private schools, which Jackson claims have “a pre-Oxford and pre-Cambridge secondary education”.
In an official statement, the University of Oxford hit back at Jackson’s comments, claiming that the admission rates of black students is in tune with the admission rates of all applicants to the University.
The University revealed that £4.5 million is being spent per annum in order to improve access to the university for students in all socio-economic and ethnic-minority backgrounds via outreach schemes.
The statement went on to say: “To remain a world-class university we need to recruit the best students so it is not in our interests to exclude particular groups.”
“School attainment is the main barrier to getting more black students to Oxford.
In 2009, nearly half of all black students in the UK who received at least three As applied to Oxford compared to 28% of white students with these grades.”
Florence Avery, Admissions and Equal Opportunities JCR Officer at Somerville College, agrees with Jackson in some respects, saying that she believes “BME students are under-represented at Oxford”, but she remains more understanding, saying that “there’s only so far that you can go in criticising Oxford admissions for this”.
“I don’t disagree with an affirmative access programme, I think it’s more important imminently that we continue to reach out to schools and communities, those institutions which shape attitudes to higher education long before applications to University are considered. As Jackson says, reaching out to young people in their “formative years” is key.”