Cherwell

Response to access report intensifies as open letter receives over 1,000 signatures

Oxford’s response to the last week’s undergraduate admissions report intensified over the weekend, with an open letter reassuring potential applicants of inclusivity receiving over 1,000 signatures.

The letter, which its organisers say aims to “reassure potential students from disadvantaged backgrounds that we are committed to providing a welcoming environment and to combatting any discrimination we see at the University,” states that “tackling [the access problem] is a challenge that none of us can shirk from.”

The news comes in advance of a Solidarity Rally at the Clarendon Building tomorrow evening in response to last week’s report, supported by groups including Oxford SU Class Act Campaign and Common Ground.

Ben Fernando, who worked with Holly Unwin on the letter to change the narrative that “Oxford wasn’t for non-whites, those from the north, or those from working-class backgrounds,” told Cherwell that they hope “those in positions of influence (such as David Lammy) [can] help us [to] solve these issues rather than perhaps unintentionally further dissuading applications from the students we most want to apply.”

The letter reads: “We wholeheartedly encourage all young people (no matter their background) to apply, and trust that they will find a community ready to welcome and support them, as we have. We will continue to invest significant effort in increasing diversity at the University and ensuring that disadvantaged groups are better represented.

“All we ask is that those who have shone a spotlight on these issues will now help us to solve them, else we fear that all this data release will have achieved is dissuading applications from those we most want to apply.”

Analysis of the University data has shown that of every 100 white applicants who applied between 2015 and 2017, over a quarter –  27% –  were given offers. White British applicants were twice as likely to gain admission as their black British peers.

Just 16% of black or black British (African) and 20% of black or black British (Caribbean) students who applied at the same time were given offers. The total black minority ethnic (BME) offer rate for the 2015-17 period was 18%.

Fernando highlighted that the University must adapt its access policies to ensure that it remains globally competitive. “Access is hugely important – if Oxford is going to maintain its world-leading position, it must be representative of the population from which it draws its students. Times are changing, and the University must change with them.”

On the event page of this evening’s protest, entitled ‘Solidarity Rally: Respond to the Oxford Access Report’, campaigners have written: “To ensure that potential applicants to Oxford hear our voices and see that we are trying to change the institution from the inside, it is vital that we come together in a show of solidarity:

“We need to show the world that, by taking up space, #thereisaplaceforyouhere at Oxford.”

They also wrote: “This is not about denying the problem, but showing that Oxford students do not stand by the University’s defence of its whiteness and elitism.”

Common Ground, the Oxford SU Class Act Campaign, Oxford First Generation Students, and the Oxford Students’ Disability Community will all take part.

The rally is due to begin opposite the Weston Library on Wednesday evening.

This article was amended at 16.52pm on Tuesday 29 May as today’s Solidarity Rally has now been postponed until tomorrow.