Racial and Class Exclusion and Marginalization: Major British Universities

A recent Guardian report shows dramatic racial and class tracking and racial/class exclusion in major British universities:

A bleak portrait of racial and social exclusion at Oxford and Cambridge has been shown in official data which shows that more than 20 Oxbridge colleges made no offers to black candidates for undergraduate courses last year and one Oxford college has not admitted a single black student in five years. . . . one black Briton of Caribbean descent was accepted for undergraduate study at Oxford last year.

In addition, the overwhelming majority of those at Oxbridge are drawn from the top social class groups, mostly from among whites.

The same extreme racial exclusion can be seen in the academic and lab staff at Cambridge University. University data show

of more than 1,500 academic and lab staff at Cambridge, none are black. Thirty-four are of British Asian origin.

The sharp increases in university fees, up to £9,000 a year, that are now likely will further make the universities even more class and racially exclusive, with very few students from working and lower middle-class backgrounds. There are also significant geographical differentials, with large areas of Britain not having any students at Cambridge. Some groups are pressing for change:

Rob Berkeley, director of the Runnymede Trust, a thinktank that promotes racial equality, said: “If we go for this elite system of higher education … we have got to make sure what they are doing is fair. If you look at how many people on both frontbenches are Oxbridge-educated, Oxford and Cambridge are still the major route to positions of influence. If that’s the case we shouldn’t be restricting these opportunities to people from minority backgrounds.”

Such commentaries seem quite tame and understated. Britain seems far behind the US in moving toward more diverse university student bodies, which is not to say the US is doing very well at its major (especially “elite” universities). The anti-affirmation laws and court rulings (such as Michigan’s Gratz and Grutter cases), as well as state referenda, have contributed to the atmosphere and/or state and university actions that have reduced students of color at major universities, which often do a poor job any way of intelligent students-of-color recruiting and retention. In addition, the report shows that British students of color who do well at lower school levels tend to go to certain urban universities:

A boom in university participation in recent years has led to a more diverse student body, but black students are concentrated in a handful of institutions. In 2007-08 the University of East London had half as many black students as the entire Russell group of 20 universities, which include Oxford and Cambridge.

Clearly, the British system of higher education remains the route to power and the better jobs in Britain, yet remains much more elitist and racial/class biased than that of the United States.