Oxford admissions row – Lammy: “It isn’t just about race”

David Lammy and Oona King hit the airwaves today to say the Oxford admissions debate should be about more than just race, reports Shamik Das.

David Lammy and Oona King hit the airwaves today to say the Oxford admissions debate should be about more than just race – with less well off children from all backgrounds failing to gain entry to the nation’s leading universities. Lammy, the shadow higher education minister, said the prime minister was right to describe the figures as “a disgrace” – though called the row over race an “artificial debate”.

He told Five Live this morning:

“Of course it’s a disgrace that there are over 400 young black children in the country getting straight As and they’re not making their way to Oxford, but this isn’t just about race – there are whole cities in Britain Barnsley, Middlesborough, Rochdale, Stoke, Hartlepool, where there are not young people making their way to this university.

“All of us pay our taxes Oxford and Cambridge receive around £560m worth of British taxpayers money between the money they get for research and teaching and yet there are more young people from the London borough of Richmond going than the entire city of Birmingham.

“It’s the case that if you have individual dons doing admission, if you don’t have universities doing outreach properly, we have to ask the question, 770 outreach events in private schools.”

Lammy added:

“Why is is that Oxford is doing outreach events at Eton, nine outreach events in Eton last year? Why is it that they are doing 12 at Malborough college? That’s why these young people from working class backgrounds, often black backgrounds and in terms of geography particularly from the North of England are not making their way to this university, the prime ministers right.

“I don’t think you can defend 9 outreach events in one year at Eton. The lecturers have often been to Oxford and Cambridge, young people at Eton are tutored and schooled on their interview techniques to get in. What we want to see at Oxford is in purposeful long term sustained engagement in places like Knowsley in places like Hartlepool, spend as much time in those schools lifting aspirations get into those schools early, at the age 9,10,11,12 and you’ll see the applications rise.

“But even when you do get the applications and I’m talking now from London boroughs like Tower Hamlets where there’s just one person going this year, and London boroughs like my own, constituencies like my own, there is a differential in the rate. One in three applicants who are white are successful one in five who are black were successful applying to Oxford university.

“If it walks like a duck quacks like a duck it probably is a duck is what Professor Blanchflower said to me, the former bank of England economist. I think that these institutions really have to look to how they are admitting and how they are reaching deep into schools across the country particularly at a time when we are raising fees to £9,000″

Listen to it:

Baroness King, meanwhile, said on Boulton & Co. on Sky News this lunchtime:

“The government are bringing in policies that will make it harder, by tripling fees and with the cuts to teaching grants. There are too few ethnic minority and white working class kids going to Oxford… Oxford, Cambridge and the Russell Group universities can and should do more.

“Oxford, Cambridge and the Russell Group universities can and should do more. If you’re on free school meals, whether you’re white or black, there’s virtually no chance whatsoever of you going to Oxford… When you are from a comprehensive school you may not have been put through prep school, and have the advantage of others…

“The main point is, Oxford, Cambridge and other universities can and should increase diversity… They are implying people who are less advantaged are less clever.”

Elsewhere today, Nick Clegg said David Cameron was “absolutely right”, with shadow business secretary John Denham echoing King in saying the government’s tuition fees policy “will make this situation worse, not better”.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.