GOING BACKWARDS – OXFORD AND THE UNIVERSITY CLASS PROBLEM

by Laura Potts

I was shocked to see in recent news that Oxford university has been accused of ‘social apartheid’ after their student intake was analysed. This story joins the long standing and highly complicated debate around the wider concept of university equality and educational fairness, revealing some worrying patterns that have begun to emerge in recent years.

Oxford university, possibly the most prestigious higher education institute in the world, apparently remains a lot less class diverse than we might have hoped in 2017. In fact, it seems the institution is becoming more elitist as time moves ‘forward’. Data unearthed by David Lammy MP shows that Oxford’s student intake is severely biased in terms of class: the “top two social classes cleaned up in terms of places, with their share of offers rising from 79% to 81% between 2010 and 2015.” There are also significant imbalances in terms of the regional and ethnic backgrounds of the applicants it invites to study in its hallowed halls.

Oxford are taking in disproportionately lower numbers of even the highest-achieving students from certain backgrounds

Although a spokesman said offers were based on results alone, there is clearly some bias at Oxford colleges, conscious or not. Although students from certain backgrounds may tend to achieve lower grades, their circumstances should surely be addresses and considered as well as their final results. If one student is born at the starting line and another halfway through the race, the distance travelled should be measured, not who finished first. But the shocking thing is that even if we disregard the differences of achievement across different demographics, Oxford are taking in disproportionately lower numbers of even the highest-achieving students from certain backgrounds. Around 400 students identifying as Black British get 3 As or better at A-level each year, but only a tiny handful of students from that background get offers to Oxford.

But considering recent political trends in this country, is this really much of a surprise? In an ever more privatised nation, with a highly regressive government, the higher class are gaining ever more power. We live in the midst of a worrying pattern of growing class divide, elitism and inequality. Early this year, the Grenfell Tower disaster threw open the debate around class equality and government priorities. The disaster has been analysed from many points of view, but from whichever angle you look it is impossible to ignore the class and cultural undertones. Not in many decades has it been clearer that greater equality is better for all.

we have a vital role to play as individuals within the system: questioning the government we find ourselves underneath

Diversity should be a highly valued part of higher education. Many unique opportunities arise from having a spectrum of different people working together. A diverse social structure is a good in itself, and allows each of us to gain a wealth of knowledge as well as friendship from one another. But in many of our higher education institutions today, people from lower class backgrounds often feel alienated, not only by their institutions but by their peers as well.

This topic is a difficult one, without straightforward conclusions to be drawn. What can we do with the knowledge of this worrying trend? I think we have a vital role to play as individuals within the system: questioning the government we find ourselves underneath. As well as direct equality in terms of class, gender, and race, establishing respect for equity within our university systems is vital. In an imbalanced society, individuals start at different points. To be truly equitable, universities must recognise how far they have come as well as what they do. The larger problem of elitism is intertwined with a compendium of other problems, but hope for a better society is not yet lost. Support and solidarity with those who need it and recognition of our own luxuries can forge a united force of a generation aware of the detrimental lessons learnt from the past and keen for them not to be repeated.

Featured image via Versa News


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