British MPs urge Oxford and Cambridge to look for students beyond the rich, white and English
‘We need to see Oxbridge making more of an effort to reach out directly to talented students from disadvantaged or under-represented areas’
More than 100 British MPs have called on the vice-chancellors of Oxford and Cambridge universities to take “urgent action” to help more disadvantaged students and those from under-represented areas gain an Oxbridge education.
The call comes in a letter organised by Labour’s David Lammy and supported by Robert Halfon, the Conservative MP who chairs parliament’s education committee. It follows revelations in the Guardian about Oxbridge’s failure to widen its admissions base.
The 108 signatories – including the former cabinet minister Yvette Cooper, a graduate of Balliol College, Oxford – said they were gravely concerned by data showing Oxbridge’s undergraduates were largely white, wealthy and from the south of England.
“An Oxbridge education is still seen as a golden ticket into a top job and the universities of Oxford and Cambridge – supported by significant taxpayer funding – still hold the key to our top professions,” the letter to Louise Richardson, vice-chancellor of Oxford, and Stephen Toope, vice-chancellor of Cambridge, stated.
“We call on you to set out exactly what steps you will be taking to address this situation and make good on this responsibility.”
Cambridge replied immediately, with Toope sending a letter to Lammy. “I believe that all universities, including Cambridge, have a duty to be open to people from all backgrounds, irrespective of race, class and origin,” Toope wrote.
“Our excellence is built on diversity. We recognise that more hard work is required, but a great deal has already changed in our outreach work, in the financial support we give students, and in our admissions processes – particularly over the last 10 years.”
Oxford said Richardson would respond in detail to the MPs in the coming days. “We share the concerns expressed by MPs about uneven access to Oxford, and know we have a great deal of work to do. We are committing more money and people than ever before to addressing these problems, including opening our latest outreach centre in Sunderland next month,” a spokesperson for the university said.
Lammy, who submitted the freedom of information requests that ensured the release of the admissions data, said there was widespread concern that Oxford and Cambridge were not taking the concerns seriously enough, especially those from MPs in “parts of the country that are basically invisible in terms of access”.
“For far too long, Oxbridge have been long on rhetoric when it comes to improving access and widening participation but very short indeed on action, and this needs to change urgently,” Lammy said.
“We need to see Oxbridge making more of an effort to reach out directly to talented students from disadvantaged or under-represented areas – they should be writing to these students to persuade them to apply, as the Ivy League colleges do in the US.”
Harvard University recently said that more than half of its next undergraduate intake would be black or minority ethnic for the first time in its history.