Does Oxbridge Discriminate?

Brideshead Revisited - Oxbridge - Social Class - Discrimination

Oxbridge has every incentive to admit more students from disadvantaged and minority backgrounds. If diversity has failed to improve then it is our fault as individuals, families, communities and voters for failing to provide elite universities with a bigger, better talent pool

Another day, another tedious story about Oxbridge being a terrible bastion of privilege and discrimination where the few working class students who manage to evade the perimeter and matriculate find themselves mocked mercilessly by Bullingdon toffs while students of darker complexion are forced to drink from separate water fountains.

The trigger for this year’s rehashing of the predictable dirge was a freedom of information request submitted by Labour MP David Lammy, who selectively requested and interpreted data to paint the bleakest possible picture of barriers to elite higher education in Britain.

The Guardian reports on the “shocking” findings, and then have the temerity to criticise the Oxford University press office for daring to defend themselves rather than meekly accepting criticism and submitting to corrective punishment:

Oxford and Cambridge have been accused of failing to engage in serious debate over their lack of diversity by the former education minister David Lammy, who first highlighted the issue with data obtained by freedom of information requests.

The Labour MP said the universities had been “trying to make journalists change their stories” rather than address how little progress they were making in recruiting talented students by race, social class and location in England and Wales.

His accusation came after sparking national controversy over data – first published in the Guardian – that showed that as many as 16 Oxbridge colleges failed to offer any places to black British applicants in 2015, the most recent figures under the FOI request.

Note that when leftists call for a “serious debate” on something, in actual fact they do not want a debate at all. What they want is for you to flop over submissively on the ground and agree to whatever Utopian socialist pipe dream they have in mind. Back in the real world, Oxford and Cambridge do little else these days other than engage in never-ending symposia about diversity. The reason that these debates don’t satisfy the Left is because they do not end with Britain’s elite universities sacrificing their brands and academic standards by further lowering their entrance requirements to attract less qualified applicants who happen to tick the right diversity checkboxes.

David Lammy huffs in the Guardian that “seven years have changed nothing at Oxbridge”, but this is totally untrue. Elite universities are falling over themselves to admit minority and working class students to improve their admissions statistics. They face immense political and even financial pressure to do so. Seven years have indeed changed Oxbridge, but only in the direction of being even more amenable to considering applications from underrepresented groups. What has not changed, though, are the stubborn social and environmental factors which continue to restrict the pool of minority applicants in which Oxbridge and other elite universities must fish.

Of course, Labour were quick to pile on with predictable, cookie-cutter criticism:

Angela Rayner, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said: “This is the latest damning evidence on the government’s failure to widen access to our most selective universities.

“The proportion of comprehensive school pupils getting in to top universities under the Tories is lower than when Labour left office, and this data shows that the problem is especially serious at Oxford and Cambridge.

“Ministers claim their system is working, but these figures show that it isn’t.”

Because any imbalance simply must be the fault of institutions, and ultimately the government who wield absolute power over everything and everyone. The idea that poverty, social stability, family structure, engaged parenting or personal responsibility might play a part in the under-representation of certain groups at Oxbridge is unthinkable. Heavens, no. Successive British governments have created a perfectly egalitarian society, and the only reason that the enrolment at Oxford University does not perfectly match the makeup of the general population is because evil admissions officers in Oxford colleges harbour a seething, visceral hatred of poor, brown kids.

Lammy goes on to complain:

During this period [2010-2015], an average of 378 black students per year got 3 A grades or better at A-levels. With this degree of disproportionately against black students, it is time to ask the question of whether there is systematic bias.

Really? Now is the time? I’m so glad, because this conversation is indeed long overdue. Nobody has once raised the issue until this watershed moment, courageously midwifed into existence by David Lammy. At long last we can finally ask why, a time when every other institute of higher education in the country have conspicuously prostrated themselves before the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics, Oxford and Cambridge continue to openly revel in institutional racism.

This is asinine.

Getting angry at Oxbridge for not admitting more ethnic minority and working class applicants is putting all the blame for societal, cultural and family problems at the foot of higher education. I am technically a BAME individual (oh, how I hate that stupid, infantilising acronym) from a poor, single-parent family, yet I was admitted to Cambridge University and neither experienced discrimination while there nor witnessed anybody else facing discrimination. On the contrary, there was a rigorous, fiercely intellectual atmosphere (aside from all the drinking and punting) which cared only about what you think, not what you look or sound like.

If anything, given the incentives and political pressure faced by universities today, I would not be surprised if many elite institutions already do more than they should to correct for social and government policy failures by accepting students from under-represented backgrounds that would not stand a chance if they were white and middle class. I know that if I was a university administrator and my performance appraisal, reputation or funding were at stake then I would be very tempted to selectively lower standards.

To properly address this issue we need to have “honest conversations” not about institutional discrimination but about family structure, culture, parenting, wealth and both primary and secondary education. We need to ruthlessly eliminate influences which tell certain impressionable youngsters that academic achievement is uncool, that being a useless parent is socially acceptable, and which peddle myths about Oxbridge based on hazy recollections of Brideshead Revisited.

We also need to stop the media hand-wringing. Hysteria about the lack of BAME people at Oxbridge only feeds a false narrative that minorities are unwelcome at Britain’s elite universities. It is very hard to increase representation when you simultaneously tell a certain group that they probably won’t get in to Oxbridge and will likely have a very bad time there if they do manage to beat the odds.

What we cannot do is expect our best universities, the engine of Britain’s innovation and research, to expend scarce time and resources bringing some candidates up to the basic level they need to be starting at. Some remedial classes are already offered to students who arrive at universities without the required study skills. It would be unfortunate if this reactive solution were to bed down at Oxbridge.

It is very convenient for politicians such as David Lammy to point to an evil, imaginary bogeyman which is responsible for a lack of diversity rather than admitting the more complex and intertwined failures which contribute to the problem. But as a “BAME” person (ugh) from a relatively disadvantaged background who was accepted into Oxbridge, the narrative being spun by the Left smacks of cynicism and a lack of serious thought.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that discrimination does not exist at the margins, or in the form of so-called microaggressions. I’m sure that it does. But I do not believe that it is systemic, particularly given that Oxbridge faces so many incentives and coercions to increase diversity.

Rather than badgering our elite universities to fix upstream issues and single-handedly correct disparities in the opportunities available to different demographic groups, we need to call individuals, families, communities and (yes) government to account for their failings and shortcomings. We need to foster a universal culture of ambition and respect for academic achievement which transcends lines of gender, ethnicity, wealth, culture or social background. This probably means making a thousand small and often inconvenient changes to the way that we behave as individuals, parents, teachers, students and policymakers, which is much harder work than joining the David Lammy Chorus and blaming everything on discrimination.

But the easy solutions are rarely the correct ones, and when it comes to increasing minority representation at our elite universities we must do what is hard rather than what feels good.

Formal Hall - Fitzwilliam College Cambridge University

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Tales From The Safe Space, Part 45 – Puppy Therapy Session Arranged For Stressed Cambridge University Students

cambridge-union-puppy-therapy-therapets-mental-health-stress-infantilisation

Et tu, Cantabrigia?

It is sad to see Cambridge University, my first alma mater, playing host to one of these infantilising “student puppy therapy” sessions. But after the Rhodes Must Fall nonsense at Oxford, it was only a matter of time before Cambridge started displaying more symptoms of the Adult Infantilisation Virus rapidly tearing through academia.

The advertisement reads:

Whether you have a deadline looming, are worried about your workload or are stressing over the number of societies’ you signed up to at the Freshers’ Fair, what better way to take a break than with a puppy therapy session, organised with the kind help of volunteers at Guide Dogs UK. The Union welcomes the volunteers and their canine counterparts for a relaxed afternoon of socialising which forms part of the puppies’ Guide Dog training. Donations for the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association welcomed.

Now, to be fair: this is a slightly more laudable event than some other puppy therapy sessions we have seen on other university campuses. In many cases, the puppy therapy has been presented entirely as a student service (like a dining plan or library facilities) but at least in this case there is a clear and worthy charitable connection. Any harm that attending students may do to their own future emotional resilience will at least be balanced by a well trained new generation of Guide Dogs for the visually impaired.

But this could have been sold to students just as effectively by calling it “puppy socialisation training”. This being Cambridge, they probably still would have had a line out the door had they named it “Canine-Human Familiarisation and Interaction Practice in a Social Setting.” But they didn’t, because puppy therapy is now all the rage on college campuses, and because the prevailing culture tells us that we are all only one unexpected bad grade or nasty personal remark away from a nervous breakdown, and so are in constant need of institutional hand-holding.

It is the same corrosive worldview which gave us “Inner Child Day” at Cardiff University earlier this year, and the introduction of “Therapets” sessions at Edinburgh University. Therapy animals have traditionally been used to help PTSD sufferers such as returning armed forces veterans, children with severe autism and hospice patients undergoing palliative care for terminal conditions. Are we really now including “two essays due on the same day” or “signed up to too many societies” in this list of severe mental stresses?

The danger of doing so is that we wrongly exceptionalise the normal stress of everyday life, putting relatively pedestrian problems on a pedestal and making it seem as though the sufferer is truly benighted and in need of external aid. This just about works so long as the student remains within the infantilising university setting and part of the noxious Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics. But when these links are severed and the real world beckons, students who have been encouraged for years to celebrate and exaggerate their own fragility are opening themselves to incurring real trauma when they have their first less-than-pleasant contact with an indifferent world.

Most employers – excepting some of the large or wealthy technology companies, who were some of the first to be infected by the virus raging through academia – will not provide a puppy room for harried employees under tight deadlines. And while HR departments are scrambling as they (rightly) respond more positively and proactively to mental health issues among their employees, they will never be able to be the overbearing, protecting, auxiliary parent in the same way that universities are now becoming.

If universities are to have a pastoral role beyond pure academia, surely they should see the nurturing of anti-fragility (the quality of absorbing negative impacts and becoming stronger as a result of them) among their students as far more valuable in the long term than pandering to students’ largely imagined sense of vulnerability.

Throughout their storied histories, Cambridge University has provided Britain with 14 prime ministers while Oxford has supplied 27, including Theresa May. These illustrious records will likely soon begin to wither if future Oxbridge graduates are conditioned to reach for the puppy videos every time there is a crisis.

The Cambridge Union – of which I am a disappointed life member – should strongly look at rebranding their puppy therapy event, now and for any future events. The time has come for the university and its associated institutions to take a brave stand and become part of the solution to the rise in victimhood culture, rather than a collaborator in feeding the problem.

 

puppy

Safe Space Notice - 2

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In Defence Of Prince William

Yes, it's slow news season
Yes, it’s slow news season

 

Having devoted considerable time to bemoaning his father’s various foibles and misdeeds on the pages of this blog, it feels somewhat unusual to be charging to the defence of Prince William today, but I do so because a lot of the faux outrage about the Duke of Cambridge’s admission to Cambridge University for what is essentially a privately-funded executive education course is entirely misinformed, off-the-mark and deserves rebuttal.

Perhaps I should not jump on someone who is still in university herself, but Melissa Berrill, writing in The Guardian (and therefore already doing much better than me), seems to have best epitomised the non-story nature of the whole affair in her polemical piece entitled “William’s on his way – and Cambridge should be ashamed”.

The basic thrust of her argument is that all of the work she has done convincing people that Cambridge University is socially inclusive and not the walled-off preserve of the posh, entitled blue-bloods has been undone in a heartbeat, and all because William is coming to study. The horror!

I’d tell them that I’d been to the local state school, and explain that it isn’t like the old days at Cambridge any more. You can’t get in just because you’re rich, or because your dad knows the right people. The admissions system isn’t perfect, but nowadays they work extremely hard to make sure they admit students based on merit, not class or family connections.

It was a spiel that came easily to me, because I’d done it many times before; on countless open days and access visits around the country throughout my degree. It didn’t always convince people – some had an impression burned too deeply to change. But sometimes it did; sometimes it made a difference.

She then proceeds to throw her toys out of the pram:

I could, for example, have spent it [her time] smashing up restaurants in full evening dress. Or snorting champagne up my nostril through a straw. Or posting Facebook pictures of me lying on a bed of gold coins wearing a top hat. For all the difference it will now make, I may as well have spent it doing all these things – because my argument is now worthless.

This would be a great point, a devastatingly effective rebuke to Cambridge University and a nice little dig at the Bullingdon Club too – if only there were any element of truth and reason to it. But there is not, and Berrill torpedoes her own argument in the very next paragraph:

It doesn’t matter that he’s actually been admitted to a 10-week “professional” course whose admissions process doesn’t directly compare to the mainstream Cambridge one – not a single news outlet has bothered to make that distinction and, to the world at large, “William’s going to Cambridge” is the only message that will be taken away.

Now, I flunked out of Cambridge University half way through my Economics degree so maybe I’m not best placed to talk, but as someone who has successfully completed her undergraduate studies at that fine institution, should Berrill (and the many journalists and columnists who have uttered similar words of disapprobation) not be concerned precisely with the truth of the matter rather than the way that it may be erroneously perceived by others? Isn’t the pursuit of truth and knowledge kind of what the whole university and higher education thing is all about? Is Melissa Berrill really saying that because something quite innocent might look bad, we should avoid doing it? And has she herself not aided and abetted  the “news outlets” and the “world at large” in their misunderstanding by joining in this outrage at a totally false straw man argument (that Prince William has somehow snuck in and snatched the coveted university place of some plucky, honest-to-God, working class, AAA-achieving eighteen year old for his own, lazy ends)?

Berrill rages:

Admitting Prince William is an insult to every student, whatever their background, who got into Cambridge by getting the required A-level or degree results. It’s an insult to every student whose A-levels and degree are the same or better than his, and who didn’t get a free pass to Cambridge in spite of them.

Admitting Prince William to this custom-made executive education course is not a particular insult to anyone, and to argue that it is insulting to students in the main academic programme is akin to saying that me watching an Olympic football game at London 2012 was a slap in the face to the Olympic athletes who worked so hard to earn the right to represent their respective countries in the Games. Not so. Just like me at the Olympics, William will be going there to spectate, to soak in the atmosphere, and – crucially – will pay his own way. Just as I did not walk out of Wembley Stadium with a gold medal around my neck, so William will not be walking out with a coveted Cambridge University degree.

This not-so-subtle nuance seems to have evaded the highly educated Oxbridge mind of Melissa Berrill.

If there is to be any outrage, why not get worked up about the fact that it appears that the University’s Cambridge Programme for Sustainable Leadership has custom-made the course for the benefit of one person? Why not check whether or not there is any precedent for offering this type of course to a small group of private individuals, and ensure that the fee payable to the University by William will be the market rate that anybody else would be expected to pay? Why not – if you really want to push the boat out – have a debate about whether executive education is a good thing at all, about the merits of allowing rich and fat executives from FTSE 100 companies to pay lots of money to spend a few weeks on campus getting drunk and hooking up, and walking away with a certificate bearing the name of a famous academic institution?

Why have we not seen these lines of enquiry and debate play out in the newspapers instead of the William-gate or Cambridge-gate style narrative that we have been fed instead? Perhaps because to do so would require some real, actual research and journalism, as opposed to a simple good vs. bad, black/white debate designed to polarise and sell papers.

If we are going to object to something, let’s keep the arguments tight and to the point, not vague and fatuous. Those protesting Prince William’s enrollment at Cambridge have failed this test.