Oxford and Cambridge are the two most prestigious universities in the UK, and enjoy an enviable reputation around the world. Both universities are synonymous with quality and academic excellence, attracting many applicants for their extremely competitive and highly sought-after undergraduate places.
Despite this glowing reputation however, the two universities have often struggled with the perception that it is solely exclusive to a particular demographic. Initiatives aimed at increasing the diversity of students have sought to shatter the notion that Oxbridge is only (or mainly) for white people from high socio-economic backgrounds. In spite of this however, there is evidence to suggest that there are still some students who are worried about a lack of diversity, and thus are discouraged from applying to the universities.
In response to this problem, Facilitate4Me wants to recognise an initiative that seeks to encourage young black students to apply to study at Oxford University. As a result, the Facilitate4Me Change Practitioner of the month award for October goes to… the Oxford Black Alumni Network!
In October, 50 Oxford graduates of black ethnic origin formed an association aimed at tackling concerns amongst young black university applicants, who fear they will not be widely represented at Oxford university. In an interview with the Evening Standard, the network’s co-chair Naomi Kellman, who studied a Philosophy, Politics and Economics degree in 2011, said ‘There is still a concern among black students that if they apply they might be the only one – they might think Oxford is not for ‘people like me’. But we want to show that’s not true. There is a long history of black students at Oxford doing well and being happy’.
The Oxford Black Alumni Network comprises numerous successful graduates from the previous 15 years, and includes a professional cricketer, an assistant producer at the English National Opera and a trainee solicitor at Magic Circle firm Linklaters. The group intends to establish a ‘buddy’ system between previous students and current black undergraduates, a mentoring programme for prospective applicants and work with schools to raise the aspirations of young black students.
It is an initiative that would’ve certainly been helpful for Naomi when she was applying to Oxford. She admits that the number of other black students at the university was ‘definitely a concern’ for her, however she strongly advises students to apply in spite of any apprehensions they may have. ‘Oxford does have diversity and you won’t be the only person like you’, she maintains.
She certainly isn’t wrong. According to the Evening Standard article, there were 225 black or mixed-raced students at the university in 2016, compared to 140 in 2006, out of a total of 9,393 students. This equates to just over 2% of students at Oxford in 2016 being of black or mixed-race heritage.
On the face of it, the increase in numbers looks encouraging. However, when considered in the wider context of the number of black students entering university, the picture is somewhat different.
According to data compiled by HESA, there were 320,000 full-time UK domiciled undergraduate students in UK universities in 2015-16. Of this number, 34,660 students were black or mixed-raced, equating to just under 11% of the total university student population.
So in the broader spectrum of black representation with the university student intake, Oxford is lagging woefully behind.
There is clearly still more that needs to be done towards achieving racial parity at the university and demystifying the perception that Oxford University is not for black people. ‘One of the challenges’, according to Dr Samina Khan, director of undergraduate admissions and outreach at Oxford, ‘is prior attainment, and we are also working with teachers to help support their most talented students in realising their aspirations’.
Hopefully the work of the Oxford Black Alumni Network will go some way to achieving this goal. Everyone at Facilitate4Me wishes the group the very best of luck.