One in five British undergraduates who won a place to study at the University of Oxford last year were from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, but privately educated students are still significantly overrepresented, according to the latest admissions data.
The university says it is making “steady progress towards a more inclusive student body”, with the proportion of British students from black and minority ethnic backgrounds now at 22.1%, up from 14.5% five years ago.
By comparison, in 2017, BAME students made up 26.2% of students at all UK universities. Widening access programmes have also resulted in an increase in the proportion of black students gaining places at Oxford, from 2.6% in 2018 to 3.1% last year, but the data shows many colleges still admitting few black students.
Between 2017 and 2019, 12 of Oxford’s colleges admitted five or fewer black undergraduates and, over the same period, there were five or fewer black undergraduates on 13 of Oxford’s most popular courses. None were admitted to study geography and only one for biology.
While there has been progress on increasing the number of state-educated students at Oxford, up from 55.6% of its UK undergraduates in 2014 to 62.3% five years later, they are still significantly underrepresented given that only 7% of pupils in the UK go to private school.
The data, published on Tuesday, also revealed the continuing dominance of students from London and the south-east, who made up 49% of all those admitted to Oxford between 2017 and 2019. In contrast, just 2.1% came from the north-east and 4.5% from the East Midlands.
Over the last five years, admissions of students from the most deprived areas of the UK have increased from 8.6% to 12.2%, the proportion of women have risen from 47.5% to 54.4%, and those declaring a disability from 6.9% to 9.4%.
In the past, the university has been criticised by MPs and policymakers for ignoring well-qualified state-educated students, especially those from black or disadvantaged backgrounds, but over the past five years it has overhauled its application system and expanded outreach efforts to widen the diversity of its student body.
In recent weeks, however, there has been criticism over the university’s handling of racist incidents. Some BAME students have complained about their experiences at the university, and Oxford’s Oriel College finally voted in favour of removing a statue of Victorian imperialist Cecil Rhodes after campaigners inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement targeted the university once again.
Commenting on the admissions figures, Prof Kalwant Bhopal, director of the Centre for Research in Race & Education at the University of Birmingham, said: “These figures show that progress is being made regarding admissions representing a more diverse student body. This is good to see, but in addition, Oxford will need to address its BME attainment gap and the lack of BME academics in senior decision-making roles.”
Oxford’s vice-chancellor, Professor Louise Richardson, said: “The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the deep education inequalities in our society. We are acutely conscious of its differential impact both on our current students and on those considering applying to Oxford.”
The university also revealed that its state school access programme, which supports 1,350 students annually and usually involves week-long residential visits to Oxford, will move online as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic continues.
Oxford’s digital expansion also includes the university’s first virtual open day and an online Target Oxbridge 2020, the programme that helps black and mixed-race students with black heritage to succeed in their Oxford and Cambridge applications.
Prof Richardson said: “Notwithstanding the major challenge of adapting to the constraints posed by the pandemic, we fully intend to continue our progress towards ensuring that every talented, academically driven pupil in the country, wherever they come from, sees Oxford as a place for them.”