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Prime Minister David Cameron accuses top UK universities of not doing enough to close attainment gap for minority students

ByThurston Smalley

Feb 8, 2016

Prime Minister David Cameron has lashed out against top universities including the University of Oxford, his own alma mater, for admitting a disproportionately small number of black and minority ethnic (BME) students.

In 2014, Oxford welcomed only 27 black undergraduates out of a total intake of over 2,500, a proportion amounting to little more than one per cent. And at Edinburgh University, under eight per cent of undergraduate entrants in 2013 were from a BME background, indicating a pattern of racial inequity in the UK that “should shame our nation”, according to the PM.

Under Mr. Cameron’s new anti-discrimination drive, universities will be forced to publish admissions statistics with detailed breakdowns by race, gender, and class. Separately, the PM has appointed Mr. David Lammy, Member of Parliament for Tottenham, to lead an investigation into racial bias in criminal sentencing in England and Wales.

Writing in The Sunday Times, Mr. Cameron called on Britain to “be far more demanding of our institutions, and be relentless in the pursuit of creative answers.”

At the University of Edinburgh, the Equality and Diversity Monitoring and Research Committee (EDMARC) publishes some limited statistics on BME admissions, though these figures account only for students domiciled in the UK.

Notably, these figures do not include the proportion the BME applicants who received an offer from the University. Admissions statistics published online include only an aggregate offer rate for all ethnic groups of 37.3 per cent.

According to EDMARC’s Student Report 2014/15, 7.7 per cent of the University’s undergraduate entrants in 2013 were from a BME background. 92.3 per cent were white. By comparison, 12.9 per cent of the UK population and 4.1 per cent of Scotland are BME, according to the 2011 UK Census.

Edinburgh University lags well behind the Russell Group average for BME participation. Within the Russell Group, 17.6 per cent of entrants are from a BME background, more than double the share among Edinburgh’s undergraduates.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a fourth-year student who identifies as black told The Student: “Edinburgh may admit BME students at a rate seven times as high as Oxford, but these publicly-available statistics simply are not meaningful […] without important context.

“We know Edinburgh makes an offer of admission to about one third of all applicants to its undergraduate programmes. Is the rate higher or lower for BME applicants? How many BME applicants does Edinburgh attract in any given year? We’re missing essential pieces of information.

“It’s hard not to feel somewhat marginalised at Edinburgh when the University says it’s doing all it can to increase outreach, and yet the proportion of BME students remains one of the smallest among Russell Group universities. It feels like the University telling us that we simply don’t make good students, despite its supposed commitment to widening participation.

“Most students at my sixth form were Black or Asian. You can’t tell me that only 7.7 per cent of us were admissible to a leading university.”

Image credit: Number 10

By Thurston Smalley

Thurston is a final year French and politics student from Chertsey, England. He first wrote for his high school newspaper, The Phillipian, in 2009. He began writing for The Student in 2011, became News Editor in 2012, and Editor in Chief in 2015. He currently serves as President.

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