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David Lammy slams Oxford for “social apartheid”

Oxford University has been accused of “social apartheid” by Labour MP David Lammy. The allegations come after data was released showing that nearly one in three Oxford colleges failed to admit any black British A-level students in 2015.

The data, released under the Freedom of Information Act, is the first of its kind to be released since 2010. It shows that ten out of 32 did not give a place to any black British students with A-levels in 2015. In the same year, six Cambridge colleges did not admit any black British students with A-levels.

It was also found that Oriel College offered just one place to a black British A-level student in six years. This comes after findings from 2010 that showed that Merton failed to offer a single place to a black British student in five years.

Lammy, a former education minister and current Labour MP, told The Guardian: “This is social apartheid and it is utterly unrepresentative of life in modern Britain.”

He went on to say: “Difficult questions have to be asked, including whether there is systematic bias inherent in the Oxbridge admissions process that is working against talented young people from ethnic minority backgrounds.”

There were also findings released which showed that 82% of Oxford offers went to students from the top two socio-economic groups in 2015.

Large regional disparities were also revealed, with the north-west of England and disadvantaged regions of Wales being underrepresented.

The data had been first requested in 2016. While Cambridge released their data immediately, Oxford only released their data earlier this week when notified about The Guardian’s article, having denied the earlier request. Lammy’s attempt to have this information released sooner involved directly approaching the University’s vice chancellor.

Lammy claimed that the University’s decision to only partially release the information now was “defensive” and “evasive”. He also said that he was “disappointed that the University has combined all black people together into one group”.

In response to these findings, a spokesperson for the University told The Guardian that fixing the problem will be “a long journey that requires huge, joined-up effort across society – including from leading universities like Oxford – to address serious inequalities”.

This new data also showed that only three Oxford colleges made at least one undergraduate offer to a black British A-level student in every year between 2010 and 2015.

David Lammy is known for campaigning for racial equality and increased access to top universities and has had several disputes with Oxford. He had previously obtained data that, in 2009, only one black British student of Caribbean descent had been accepted as an undergraduate.

Lammy has also previously criticised Oxford for “unconscious bias” which he claimed systematically disadvantages applicants from ethnic minority backgrounds.

In response to Lammy’s comments, Oluwatobi Olaitan, Exeter’s JCR Equalities Rep, told Cherwell: “David Lammy’s comments are a huge reminder that our education system has a serious problem with providing equal opportunities to those socioeconomically disadvantaged.”

Having worked with University access programmes, he is aware that “steps are being taken to address this issue” but emphasises that “there’s still so much more work to be done to ensure we make places like Oxford accessible to all regardless of background.”

This comes after data released by Ucas earlier this year found that, of the 2,555 offers made for 2016 entry, just 45 were to black applicants.

Offers were made to 26.3% of white applicants, but only 16.8% of Asian and 16.7% of black applicants.

Hope Oloye, a third year Pembroke student who founded the Afro-Caribbean Tyler Prize, an access mentoring programme for Afro-Caribbean students, said: “I think the data’s hardly surprising, you only have to look around Oxford to realise it has a diversity problem.

“I think we have to be careful not to further propagate the idea that Oxford isn’t a place for black students, because a lot of the current discourse has the potential to deter prospective Afro-Caribbean applicants.

“It’s good that we’re finally having a frank and open discussion about it now as it gives us the opportunity to address the problem. Oxford needs to take an active approach in rectifying this issue.”

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