CHARLENEM -Staff Writer-

Black students lag behind in UK–and problem will get worse, says advocates

( – Revelations by a Member of Parliament that Black and other minority students are disproportionately underrepresented at two of London’s elite universities is another side of a compounded struggle faced by Black students fighting against tuition increases and for equal access to education, say advocates.

On December 7 in The Guardian newspaper, David Lammy, a former higher education minister and Labour MP for Tottenham, struck a chord when he published the findings of a six-month investigation into undergraduate admissions statistics at Oxford and Cambridge universities.


“Justone British Black Caribbean student was admitted to Oxford last year … Merton College, Oxford, has not admitted a single Black student for five years. At Robinson College, Cambridge, a White applicant is four times more likely to be successful than a Black applicant. Last year, 292 Black students achieved three A grades at A-level and 475 Black students applied to Oxbridge. Applications are being made but places are not being awarded,” Mr. Lammy wrote in the Guardian.

What his investigation revealed was a system in which getting a place remains a matter of being White, middle class and Southern, he wrote.

Mr. Lammy’s study preceded a vote by MP’s which allows universities to raise tuition fees from 3,250 pounds to up to 9,000 pounds per year. Their vote did not address how the tuition hikes could widen the race and class admissions gap at the schools, he said.

“The stigma of Oxford and Cambridge and Russell Group universities as culturally exclusive, coupled with the fear of extortionate living costs and fees, as well as the inadequate welfare support once there, are a potent mix that prevents many Black students from considering those leading institutions,” wrote Kanja Sesay, National Union of Students’ Black Student Officer in an e-mail to The Final Call.

“Clearly, more needs to be done to attract and enable Black students who hold appropriate academic qualifications to apply to the leading institutions. However, when the majority of Black students come from the poorest socio-economic groups, it begs the question how this government proposes to help remedy this exclusion?”

Mr. Lammy and Mr. Sesay both noted that there are more Black students studying in London Met University than there are in the entire Russell group (the top 20 Universities in the country). Abolishing the cap on tuition fees will inevitably lead to an even more “elitist” system, Mr. Sesay said.

And by charging more for their courses, the universities will create an even greater race and class divide between higher education institutions, he added.

Mr. Lammy said the responsibility for social justice and fairness was erroneously left up to the goodwill of the universities, but it is government’s responsibility.

In a phone interview, Julia Paolitto, press officer with Admissions and Educational Policy for the University of Oxford, told The Final Call Mr. Lammy’s reports claiming that Oxford has admitted only one Black student last year are incorrect.

In a follow-up email, she further replied, “The ‘only one Black student’ figure only refers to British Black students of Caribbean descent–in total Oxford admitted 27 Black British students in 2009 (and this does not include those of mixed race or non-British Black background). There is absolutely no evidence of any kind to suggest that institutional racism is a factor in producing any of the figures Mr. Lammy cites. Oxford’s total BME (Black and minority ethnic) population across the whole university is 22 percent, and at undergraduate level this is around 16 percent.”

Trevor Hakim, CEO of Black StarLine, an organization, which promotes unity in areas like education and media, believes the bottom line is economics, but it’s not that the universities actually need the money. It’s that they have already met their economical needs to a certain extent on the backs of the Black students, and because they don’t need them anymore, the tuition hikes and admission gaps are being used to drive them out, he said.

There was no real encouragement or push for the poor working class and so-called ethnic minorities to seek higher education until the late-80s, and that push came in order to boost economics, he argued.

Now, year after year, universities figure out how to privatize and raise fees, he said.

Every political party promises every year to stop the fees but as soon as they get in power, they either maintain the fees or raise them, but the system was never set up for the betterment of particularly the poor working class and ethnic minority students, Mr. Hakim said.

The system was always an economical game plan to fill the coffers but never a doorway or opportunity for the people, he argued.

“There is a two-pronged approach and one has always been in the mold and the tradition, whether it’s of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Booker T. Washington, it’s always been to build learning institutions for ourselves but it has to be an educational paradigm, as the Minister (Louis Farrakhan) has said, that comes with a practical, social society, civilization building educational paradigm,” Mr. Hakim said.

The second solution is, if one’s within the system, he or she should gain from and take from it what fits into their game plan, he continued. Then build and feed that into a choice of study in order to ultimately fulfill your purpose, Mr. Hakim said.

With those approaches, Black students can begin to formulate their own system of economic welfare and social care and begin to escape many of the challenges they face today, he said.

According to Mr. Sesay, Black students incur worse levels of debt when they enter into higher education, as well as lower pay, discrimination, and institutional racism in the workplace–so in the end, Black people are burdened with paying student debts for longer periods of time.

In addition, he told The Final Call, Black graduates are four times more likely to be unemployed than White graduates.

“It’s (fee hikes) definitely going to make it worse for Black students but Black people in the U.K. are the most deprived community in the poorest areas of the country. Because of the discrimination we face in the workplace, we’re likely to be in the more lower paid jobs and face high rates of unemployment,” said Zita Holbourne, an education activist and joint chair of Black Activists Rising Against Cuts.

Ms. Holbourne said the solutions are not easy and straightforward because of the social and economic conditions of the country, but the universities and colleges are bound by their public sector duties regarding race, gender, and disability.

“They are supposed to identify if there is any impact on those equality grounds in their policies and if there is, they have to address and mitigate that,” Ms. Holbourne said.