Cameron does a Gordon Brown

Baroness Deech

Once again the Prime Minister has made an unfounded and inappropriate attack on Oxford.  Why are there so few black students, he asked? I have rehearsed the arguments before, in my 2011 post, Oxford Blues Whites and Blacks ( and, sadly, nothing has changed.  Black potential students still achieve fewer 3A*/A A-level grades than white; and only 35 UK Black Caribbean candidates applied to Oxford in 2013. The most recent figures show that the success rate of white applicants to Oxford was 25%, and of all ethnic minority candidates 17%. Black applicants achieved a 13% success rate, British students of Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds did less well. Applicants of mixed background and mixed White-Asian origin did just as well as the white applicants. According to the most recent figures, 17% of applicants to Oxford are from ethnic minorities, which is slightly less than the percentage of ethnic minorities amongst the British population as a whole. Oxford is transparent about its figures –

and there really is no need for fresh legislation to compel universities to publish admissions statistics which are already available on the internet.

The problem, if there is one, lies in the applications themselves, that is, too few black candidates applying.  In part this is because of their averagely lower school qualifications, and in part, as I explained in my 2011 post, because they are, quite wrongly, put off applying by the reverse snobbery of schoolteachers and parents.

In two respects however, I see strategies that could be adopted to improve matters.  One is the ongoing disproportionate preference of black and minority applicants for courses that are oversubscribed, like Economics with Management, and Medicine: for instance, in 2013, 11.3% of Asian and Asian British Oxford hopefuls applied for Economics & Management, one of the most competitive courses in terms of the ratio of applications to places, while only 2.9% of white applicants applied for the same subject. The percentage of BME applicants applying for other particularly competitive courses, such as Medicine and Law, is also high, at 18.0% and 9.3% respectively for BME applicants as a whole, compared to 2.9% and 5.8% for white applicants. If only those candidates would apply for Modern Languages or Classics, where the success rates are 33% and 42% (2013), 44% and 36% (2014). Oxford could fix that by cutting the places on offer for Modern Languages and Classics, and switching them to courses that state educated pupils are more likely to want to study.

Nevertheless Cameron has scored an own goal.  His criticism of Oxford will send out the erroneous message that black students have a hard time there, and that will undo much of the effective and costly outreach work that Oxford and Cambridge carry out.  He has not studied the statistics; if he had he would realise that the paucity of black students is due to factors other than racism. He has insulted his own alma mater, and I can imagine no other Prime Minister in the world showing such disrespect for his state’s premier university, paradoxically one to which he hopes to attract foreign students. Gordon Brown acted similarly in the case of Laura Spence, and I cannot believe that David Cameron would wish to be bracketed with him as damaging influences.

I suspect the PM may have chosen this unfortunate topic to distract attention and headlines away for a day or two from his embarrassing EU negotiations.

Worst of all, if the number of BME applications to Oxford falls in future years, Cameron will only have himself to blame.  For the government has decided to change the student maintenance grant, which is for living costs, into a loan, like tuition fees.

As I said in a debate on this in the Lords on 25 January, the effect of ending grants of up to £3387, designed for food and rent costs, is that more students will have to stay at home for their studies. This will eventuate in a decrease in social and academic mobility, and a ghettoisation of universities. It is already the case that teenagers from better off families are more likely to attend top universities than those from low income backgrounds, even though more students from less well off backgrounds are attending university. 5% of poor students went to Russell Group universities according to the latest statistics, compared with 12% from more affluent homes. BME school pupils, more than most others, may now decide that going away to university is too expensive and taking that step will only add to their debts at the end of the course. If black pupils have homes in say, London, Birmingham or Bradford, they might decide to study in universities in those cities, and live at home in order to save money. BME students, who are already more likely to study close to home, will not want to move away to Oxford and Cambridge, because that will involve extra living costs (although Oxford would never let anyone drop out for reasons of poverty).

In sum, what the government is doing by removing maintenance grants is not merely saving money. It is reinforcing segregation. Poor and ethnic minority students will have taken from them that golden opportunity at a critical age to widen their horizons and leave home for another part of the country.  Academic choice will suffer. Racial and social integration will be put back. Better off students will continue to surge ahead in educational opportunities, and universities will become as segregated in their make up as some schools in some parts of the country already are.  If the government believes what it says about every pupil fulfilling their potential, about all young people living in harmony, in a society open to all and equally accessible to all, it must restore maintenance grants.  Real social and academic harm is going to result from this penny pinching measure.

5 comments for “Cameron does a Gordon Brown

  1. Dave H
    01/02/2016 at 5:30 am

    As someone who started life in East London, I have sympathy with the students who now have to pay for what I got for free. However, I put a large amount of the blame for that on Tony Blair. Until he started on his quest to send as many people to university as possible, the country could afford to pay fees and (up to a point) grants for the relatively small proportion of people who went. It was justified as an investment because the graduates would be earning more and as a result of their contribution, other jobs would be created and the country would get more back than the cost. Once the numbers escalated and the nature of the degree courses changed, it was no longer affordable and the level of return went way down. Degrees have been devalued by this and the balance needs to pushed back, possibly by offering support for those courses which are deemed to be in demand by employers (engineering and medical probably high on the list).

    As for minorities being under-represented, I’d pin a lot of the blame for this on the attitude of schools. Girls were discouraged from various pursuits for many years, which is why we have a disparity between the sexes – not only were the women leaving school not qualified to take certain jobs, but both men and women were brought up to expect that to be the case. This is changing now, and a similar campaign needs to be waged for other groups to give them the confidence to go for what they want, and to educate everyone else to encourage them.

    • Baroness Deech
      Baroness Deech
      01/02/2016 at 10:19 am

      I agree except that I believe students should study what they love and are good at, rather than what they think employers want. A good degree course should enable the graduate to be flexible and ready to pick up new skills.

  2. MilesJSD
    01/02/2016 at 9:03 am

    Three “hiddens” if I may:-

    1) Realise that “education” is no longer what schools and universities are dominated by:
    instead they have become nothing less than ‘winner-takes-all’ Workplace and Career social-mobility destructively-competitive Training and monetary Profit-seeking places.
    [The mere fact that they refuse to carry and recommend-reading-of source-books they are “not teaching” ;
    such as
    “Natural Vision Improvement” (Janet Goodrich);
    “Waking Up” (transcripts, Charlotte Selver’s ‘Lifeplace’ personal-development);
    “The Busy Person’s Guide To Easier Movement” (Wildman’s Feldenkrais-work);
    “The Centering Book”, “The Centered Teacher”, (G. Hendricks et al);
    “Health Care Together” (Johnston & Rifkin);
    most vitally “Leader Effectiveness Training” (Gordon’s ‘No-Lose’ Method III);

    shows this “One-Eyedness”].
    2) Oxford remains the world-leading university in English-Language competence: ‘naturally’ foreigners and the lesser-schooled stand little chance of prowess there.
    Yet Oxford also remains “reactionary” against some advancing knowledge-&-Know-how, as de-facto do most UK universities, such as the above and such as the growing new Faculty-dimensioned educational & life-enabling ‘school’ of Somatics, which has found Oxford-University recently officially leading the Westminster members of parliament in the psychiatric-treatment basic of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy’s ‘Mindfulness’.
    3) “Reverse snobbery of schoolteachers and parents” is a factor, and was long ago ‘spotted’ by the Jungian psychology movement but more overarchingly or underlurkingly prevailing,
    very strongly opposite to the traditional “upper-classes snobbery”,
    throughout the ‘working classes”
    as ‘inverted-snobbery”
    [my source was Dr Irene Champernowne of the Withymead Centre, Countess Wear nr Exeter; 1955].

    But our Problem-root here is really bigger, as the literal constitutionally-encouraged Conflation-ing of “life-values” including in competition against “work-values’;
    and it is our crying Need for longest-term strategic Sustainworthiness-ing,
    throughout English and UK culture(s)
    including all Lifeplaces
    as well as their oft-destructively-competing Workplaces.
    Finally, a back-scrutiny of the much bigger Black ‘problem’ in the USA, whose Blacks’ honest endeavours to make fair and constructive two-way written dialogue with their white masters was only ‘strawmanned’ and turned against those Blacks by those selfsame ‘masters’,
    which caused the Blacks to ‘retreat’ into establishing their own non-recorded “spoken-word-only” modus operandi of communication.
    My last word would be (that)
    [“] Our essentially greatest Task is to be enabling every level of human-being first-and-foremostly in Lifeplace Enablements;
    secondarily in Workplace skills;
    and last of all in co-destructively-fighting
    for More-and-More-Multiple-Human-Livings Money-and-Purchasing-Power,
    flimsily-ostensibly as “Earnings/Bonuses/Winnings/Entitlements/and Private-Rights”
    and as a Core-Essential under the Now-&-Future-Dominant Global-Consumer-Market-Economy [“].

  3. tizres
    01/02/2016 at 9:01 pm

    The other end of the telescope is clouded: why aren’t prison statistics available from the ONS?

    TUC analysis shows “…that nearly half (45 per cent) of BAME employees have degrees, compared with less than a third (31 per cent) of white employees.”* Though of equal interest is what happens after university.


  4. maude elwes
    05/02/2016 at 6:35 am

    Here is another old sell them a line to keep them quiet tactic.

    What about some real statistics.

    How many ethnic ‘minorities’ are there in each of our universities? How many of those are paying toward their education? How many are from low income or no income families? How many reach the full academic requirement for such places? How many have the vocabulary and language to fully understand what it is they are studying? How many were born here?

    How many indigenous white children are there in our universites in comparison to the population? How many of them are from low income or no income families? How many meet the academic qualification on every level including vocabulary and language? How many are paid for in full by our government?

    How many of our children who line up with their parents at food banks get anything like a share in the billions of our tax payer pounds being sent out of our country annually in aid of one sort or another? How many billions does our government allocate to their collective needs? How many charities are there asking for donations for British children who are homeless and live in poverty?

    The percentage of ethnics in comparison to the poor white population in our universities exceeds the true figures we hear and read of by a large percentage. Therefore indigenous tax payers largesse appears to be ludicrously over extended to non white poor. Especially when you add up for poor white boys being notorioulsy short in most places. How about giving full and in depth figures to the population on a regular basis in the daily rags.

    I do wonder why the call for assistance to white children doesn’t even enter the spectrum of save our souls. Now why is that? Are they less worthy? Are they second class citizens? Are they in some way unequal because of their historical background? Their grandparents and parents didn’t suffer so much as they were ruled by colonialists so the money is more deserving to the immigrant and their children and grandchildren that the white population, as equality isn’t something they deserve to expect?

    White children are often being educated by teachers who have very limited English vocabulary and therefore the shock when you hear children of friends with strange thick unbelievable accents as they open their mouths to speak is depressing in the extreme. Lowering the standards or doctoring the stats is betrayal of all children no matter their heritage. So stop it.

    It is time the governments across Europe gave a large country the size of Spain to those who want to live with the traditional values they were raised in and enjoyed as European families. A place akin to Israel for example where they can continue to expect the ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ they were raised in and didn’t vote to dismantle under any government or any European decision to change what they once had and loved.

    Clearly some are more equal than others.

Comments are closed.