The revelation in today's Guardian
that 21 Oxbridge colleges failed to admit a single black student shows the extent to which Oxbridge has failed to ensure its admissions reflect actual ability. It is another indicator that admissions are based more on connections (of the schools they go to) than on student ability.
We already know that state school students are under-represented at Oxbridge and that this is not because of their A level results. 71% of A level A grades (and 70% of A* grades) were achieved in the state sector. Yet state sector students constitute less than 60% of admissions in either Oxford or Cambridge.
We also found out last week
that students from comprehensive schools do better at university than those from grammar and private schools, who have the same A level grades. So if Oxbridge was truly seeking out those most likely to succeed it would be admitting state students in larger numbers than that 70% proportion. Instead they are somehow admitting less.
One explanation of why some groups (including state school students and black students) are under-represented is that those groups are less likely to apply. It has been argued that state school teachers deter their students from applying to Oxbridge. The Guardian article reveals, for black students at least, that this is not the case. For those black students that apply, it is simply harder to get in. Compared to a 1 in 3 chance for students generally, black students have only a 1 in 5 or 1 in 6 chance of being admitted. Indeed nearly 50% of black students with 3 As applied to Oxbridge, compared to 28% of white students with those grades.
The reality is that the easiest way to get into Oxbridge is to attend one of those schools with connections going back decades, and with years of experience of hothousing their students for Oxbridge admission. There have been genuine attempts by Oxford and Cambridge, over the last few years, to widen their admissions. But these statistics once again indicate that these do not go nearly far enough in tackling the inherent discrimination that determines who gets to these 'top' universities.