Social apartheid still an issue in today’s higher education system?

By Amy Stokes

Recent claims by David Lammy call out the ‘social apartheid’ of Oxbridge, but just how much truth is there to this statement? Data published last week displayed a decline in the social diversity of their students, with 82% of offers made to applicants in the top two social classes. More offers were made to applicants from four of the Home Counties than the whole of the North, and 13 Oxford Colleges failed to make a single offer to black A-level applicants over a six-year period.

Despite efforts to push widening participation in Higher Education into the political spotlight, the persistent rhetoric of inclusion and accessibility narrated by these institutions is exposed as having no real substance when analysing diversity figures.

The accusations of increasing elitism highlight the failure to draw on Ivy League style schemes which personally encourage students from disadvantaged backgrounds. One in five Harvard students are from families with an income less than the national average, yet – excluding bursaries – Oxbridge are spending around £10m a year on outreach schemes which are clearly failing in their purpose.

Less than 1% of the adult population graduated from Oxbridge, yet they have produced most of our prime ministers, senior judges and civil servants, as well as many personalities in the media. Nevertheless, is it unjust to place the blame solely on these institutions?

It is far easier for the Department of Education to criticise these institutions when the problem lies within their own failure to support those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Black A-Level students are far more likely to miss their predicted grades; just 4.9% in 2012/13 achieved 3 A*-A, the typical Oxbridge offer. This catch-22 of a failing education system dominated by those who benefit from it means Oxbridge will continue to be inaccessible and unrepresentative of a population which excels with diversity.

Image: aneastudio via Flickr 

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