BAME Students

Brexit Will Intensify the Struggles of BAME Students at Elite Universities

BAME Students are still facing systemic barriers to success at elite universities. Brexit will only exacerbate this problem.

Oxford and Cambridge still have strong associations with elitism and privilege. We think of white, privately-educated students, the children of the immensely wealthy, awaiting a career in politics or economics. Hardly an attractive image to BAME students. It is little wonder, therefore, that both institutions are attempting to reverse this perception by claiming that levels of diversity are increasing. However, as much as any efforts are failing to yield tangible results, the issues that BAME students face when applying to ‘Oxbridge’ are far more deep-seated and multifaceted. Systemic change is required in order to give students of all backgrounds an equal chance of success. Brexit is set to make the plight of BAME students even more difficult, so the need for action could not be more acute. The referendum has triggered an unprecedented rise in racially-motivated hate crime, increasing levels of hostility towards the BAME community. Additionally, Brexit spending cuts will hit this sector of society the hardest.

Statistics released by UCAS reveal that any of Oxbridge’s supposed efforts to become more inclusive have made next to no impact. In 2016, only 35 black students gained a place at Oxford in comparison to 2180 white students. Cambridge’s admissions for that year were similarly mono-ethnic. These figures point to one of the key issues BAME students face- the fear of not belonging. The lack of diversity within Oxbridge is self-perpetuating, inasmuch as the white-dominated student population deters BAME students from applying. This is borne out of a fear of alienation and isolation, and it will not change until the two universities change their attitudes towards students from outside of the majority group.

This notion of imposter syndrome acting as deterrent from applying is summed up by Candice, a working-class black student at Oxford. ‘you want to go to a good university but you don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb’. In addition, incidents of racial prejudice are frequent at Oxbridge, further serving to discourage BAME students from applying. Timi Sotire, a student at Cambridge, told Business Insider that she was asked whether she could be called ‘the n-word’ during her first week of study, and was told her hair looked better straight. It is pertinent at this point to mention the impact of Brexit. In the aftermath of the vote, hate crime rose by an unprecedented 41%. A recent UN report stated that in 2016/17, police recorded 80,393 hate crime offences, of which 78% were racially-motivated. It is reasonable to assume that given the general rise in racial hatred, incidents such as the aforementioned will become even more commonplace.

Whilst it is of paramount importance that our elite universities work to ensure that students of all backgrounds have an equal chance of gaining a place, it is also crucial that all have the opportunity to flourish academically once there. A joint study by the NUS and UUK has looked into the attainment gap at our universities, revealing that white students achieve 10-15% higher than BAME students at 29% of all institutions. Such statistics point to the impact that the issues facing this community have upon academic success- it is difficult to thrive when you feel ostracised and out of place. Brexit will make student populations even less diverse, as EU students will need to apply for a Tier 4 Student Visa in the same way that current international students do. The associated costs will see far less EU students apply- the Higher Education Policy Institute predict that EU applications will fall by 57%, and Cambridge have already seen a decrease of 14% since the referendum. This is a key way that Brexit will make the lives of BAME students even more difficult. Our elite universities are set to become even less diverse at a time when the opposite is required, and intolerance towards anyone from outside the majority group will grow as a result.

In order to understand the attainment gap suffered by BAME students, it is important to examine the significance of socio-economic background, as 75% of the BAME community live in 88 of the UK’s most deprived areas. A study conducted by the Runnymede Trust focused on Black Caribbean, Pakistani and Bangladeshi students at Cambridge, and revealed that 76% of those who undertook vacation work to fund their studies received inadequate exam grades. Similarly, the study showed that 73% of those who received money from their parents achieved a first or 2.1, compared to only 45% of those who did not. This sheds light on the impact that household income has on one’s ability to achieve their full potential. It is an issue particularly relevant at Oxbridge due to the considerable emphasis such institutions place upon wealth, and work needs to be done to ensure that all students have a fair chance of success.

The presence of an attainment gap is also visible at earlier stages of education, with only 2% of black students receiving 3 A-levels in total, a far cry from the minimum 3As needed for Oxbridge. It is relevant to point out that in England, children from an Afro-Caribbean background are three times more likely to be excluded than white children. Such disparities are indicative of racial profiling at work within our education system, which has a deleterious effect on BAME students’ chances of achieving highly. Racial profiling could also explain the fact that Oxbridge’s offer rates for BAME students are still markedly lower even when A-levels are accounted for. The Runnymede Trust found that Black students have a Russell Group offer rate 7% lower than white students, even when A-levels are the same. Given that UCAS forms display the applicant’s personal details, such a statistic could be explained by racial discrimination at work within elite universities’ admissions processes.

Brexit is of immense significance here. The UN’s special rapporteur examined the impact of Brexit on the BAME community, finding that the income of black households is set to drop by 5%, more than double that of white households. Given that BAME households are already twice as likely to be impoverished than white households, Brexit-triggered spending cuts will make the economic obstacles facing BAME students far harder to overcome. As a result, it is crucial that our elite universities put sufficient infrastructure in place to give all students the opportunity to flourish. This is important not only for equality and fairness, but because it will benefit the nation as a whole by allowing a wealth of talent to express itself and fulfil its potential.

With Brexit imminent, the need could not be greater for our universities to take a more egalitarian approach. One’s background should not negatively impact upon academic success.

Cameron Boyle is a political correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service; an organisation of immigration solicitors which provides legal support for students from overseas looking to study in the UK.

Cameron Boyle is a political correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation of immigration solicitors based in the UK and Ireland.