Britain’s elite universities represent a “social apartheid” as new figures reveal a privileged background is “still the key” to earning a place at Oxford or Cambridge, a former Labour minister has claimed.
Data published by David Lammy MP shows successful entrants to the UK’s top two universities were dominated by students from the south of England, the top two social classes and of non-black ethnicity.
The ex-universities minister branded Oxbridge colleges “fiefdoms of entrenched privilege” and demanded greater action to increase diversity over the “shocking” figures.
The data, secured by Mr Lammy through Freedom of Information requests, reveals:
:: The University of Cambridge made more offers to applicants from four of the Home Counties (Hertfordshire, Surrey, Kent and Oxfordshire) than the whole of the North of England between 2010 to 2015.
:: Both universities draw half their students from the South East and London, with around 11% from the Midlands and 15% from the North.
:: In each year between 2010 to 2015, 13 of the University of Oxford’s 38 colleges did not make a single offer to a black A Level applicant.
:: Less than 1% of Cambridge offers went to Pakistani applicants and 1% to black applicants between 2010 to 2015.
:: The proportion of offers that both universities made to applicants from the top two social classes rose from 79% in 2010, to 82% at Oxford and 81% at Cambridge in 2015.
Tottenham MP Mr Lammy said: “Overall, the picture painted by this data is of two institutions that overwhelmingly draw their students from a privileged minority in the South of England.”
The former barrister is calling for Oxbridge to end their collegiate admissions system for a centralised process to address shortcomings.
He also wants foundation years for those from under-represented sections of society; for the universities to directly contact talented students from disadvantaged and under-represented backgrounds to encourage them to apply; and to copy the US Ivy League’s system of giving weight to an applicant’s social class and local authority.
Mr Lammy said: “An Oxbridge degree is still the golden ticket in our society and a gateway to the top jobs so the Government has a responsibility to hold Oxbridge to account.”
He claimed it was “not good enough” for the universities to blame the school system.
In response, the University of Cambridge pointed to its highest ever level of undergraduate acceptances for black and minority ethnic background students (21.8%) in 2016.
The university’s 2017 figures also show the highest proportion of state-educated students in 35 years.
A spokesperson said: “We aim to widen participation further whilst maintaining high academic standards.
“Our admissions decisions are based on academic considerations alone. We are committed to admitting the best students who will thrive on our courses.
“The greatest barrier to participation at selective universities for students from disadvantaged backgrounds is low attainment at school.
“We assess the achievements of these students in their full context to ensure that students with great academic potential are identified.”
The University of Oxford said students from black and minority ethnic backgrounds made up 15.9% of its 2016 undergraduate intake, double the figure in 2010.
A spokesperson said solving the problem would be “a long journey that requires huge, joined-up effort across society – including from leading universities like Oxford – to address serious inequalities”.