Oxbridge is failing with diversity – but how are other top universities doing?

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Colleges and university are trying to boost campus diversity. Source: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

You’ve no doubt seen the news slamming both Oxford and Cambridge university for the lack of diversity in their student body.

The Labour MP David Lammy, former higher education minister, accused the red brick establishments of “social apartheid” after obtaining student enrolment figures for 2010 to 2015.

The figures reveal that Oxford and Cambridge are hugely unrepresentative of the country and continue to recruit predominantly from private schools in the Southeast of the country, despite efforts to reach out to students from lower economic backgrounds and those from ethnic minorities.

“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,” Lammy said.

Shockingly, the figures show 13 Oxford University colleges failed to make a single offer to black A-level applicants over a six-year period, with only three of its 32 colleges making an offer to a black A-level applicant every year between 2010 to 2015.

Campus diversity has long been an issue that universities have been trying to tackle. Obviously some are doing better than others, but pretty much all unis in the UK, North America and Australia are trying to bridge the gap to afford equal opportunity to those students from ethnic minorities.

While Oxbridge are clearly failing – or possibly not even trying – to bridge the gap, how are the top universities on the other side of the pond doing?

Canada announced their Action Plan for Inclusive Excellence on Thursday. This is a five-year strategy in which Canada’s universities will collect and make public demographic data on faculty, staff and students as part of a plan to increase the diversity and inclusion of their campus communities.

While each institution collects its own data on student demographics, the hope is that by making it public, the schools will be pressured into acting on diversity policies.

“We will in essence challenge ourselves by being public with our data,” Mike Mahon, chair of Universities Canada’s board of directors, told The Globe and Mail.

“An institution is going to say to itself, ‘If this data is going to be public, we want it to look as best as it can.’ It’s a simple approach called self-monitoring. If we have public self-monitoring, change will happen.”

The top-flight universities in America are also making great headway in ethnic diversity on campus. Harvard University, ranked second in the country according to QS World University Rankings 2018, had a historic year with its 2017 intake of students.

According to the BBC, the incoming class this autumn is the school’s most diverse in the 380 years it has been around. Slightly more than half of the cohort, which consists of 2,056 people, will be made up of non-white students.

50.8 percent of the university’s incoming class are from minority groups – a  three percent jump from last year’s 47.3 percent.

“To become leaders in our diverse society, students must have the ability to work with people from different backgrounds, life experiences, and perspectives. Harvard remains committed to enrolling diverse classes of students,” Rachael Dane, a spokeswoman for the university, told the Boston Globe.

“Harvard’s admissions process considers each applicant as a whole person, and we review many factors, consistent with the legal standards established by the US Supreme Court.”

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), considered the best university in the world according to QS, also proved its diversity efforts were working in its undergraduate cohort with 47 percent of students being from an ethnic minority. In its graduate student intake, however, the percentages were more skewed, with students from ethnic minorities making up just 18 percent.

This does only take into consideration those students from the United States however, and MIT has a significant international student body that made up 43 percent of graduate intakes in 2016-2017.

While the North America seems to be doing a better job in levelling the playing field in its very top universities, hope is not all lost in the UK. Figures from the Higher Educations Statistics Agency showed that universities in the London area have a lower portion of white students.

Universities such as Kings College London, University College London (UCL) and Queen Mary University of London have under 65 percent of white UK students.

There’s still a long way to go for some of the top-flight universities out there – I’m looking at you Oxbridge – but colleges across the board are working to improve the diversity of their campuses. Here’s hoping they achieve it, as diversity on campus not only benefits the students but society on the whole.

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