The UK’s most prestigious universities, Oxford and Cambridge, have come under fire following the release of their latest admission figures.

The stats show that at Cambridge, six of the university’s 29 undergraduate colleges admitted fewer than 10 black British students over five years, according to data that the Financial Times received under the Freedom of Information Act.

What’s more, some of the colleges admitted no black British students at all in some years. One of these was St Edmund’s College, which didn’t admit any black British students at all between 2012 and 2016 — despite receiving more than 30 applications. 

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Downing College, one of the university’s most popular, reportedly received 95 applications from black British students between 2012 and 2016 — but made between just eight and 12 offers.

“Cambridge, and every university in the country, should be publishing all their access and admissions data every year,” Labour MP David Lammy, who has spearheaded a campaign to get more diversity in Britain’s elite universities, told the newspaper.

“We need transparency if we are going to have progress on access to our elite institutions for students from disadvantaged and underrepresented backgrounds,” he added. 

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The reason the data was released as ranges is because the numbers are so small it could compromise the anonymity of applicants, according to Cambridge University, which Lammy said is, in itself, cause for concern.

“The fact that many colleges are admitting so few black British students that they argue that publishing the information would risk identifying individual students is itself the strongest possible evidence that there is so much work to do,” he said.

But Cambridge said one of the reasons for the lack of diversity is that it doesn’t receive enough applications from students from underrepresented minority backgrounds. 

“We are already doing a significant bit of outreach, but ultimately the university isn’t going to be able to bring about this change on its own,” a university spokesperson told the Financial Times. “We need the support of schools and parents, too.” 

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“More needs to be done to prepare high-achieving black students for applications to Cambridge and Oxford, which is why we have significantly increased the funding we contribute to programmes like Target Oxbridge,” the spokesperson added. Target Oxbridge helps to support black students in the application process. 

The Cambridge admissions figures come just weeks after it was revealed that 1 in 4 Oxford colleges didn’t admit a single black British student between 2015 and 2017, according to figures released in response to a Freedom of Information request by Lammy. 

Other Oxford colleges, including Balliol, University, and Magdalen, each reportedly admitted two black British students across the three-year period. Corpus Christi admitted just one, despite receiving around 12 applications. 

According to reports, white British A-level students were twice as likely to be admitted to Oxford, with a 24% success rate, compared to the 12% success rate of black British students. 

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“The university is clearly happy to see Oxford remain an institution defined by entrenched privilege that is the preserve of wealthy white students from London and the south-east,” said Lammy at the time.  

In October 2017, Lammy also accused Oxford of “social apartheid” after figures were released showing that 10 in 32 Oxford colleges didn’t give a single undergraduate place to a black Brith student in 2015. It was the first time Oxford had released these figures since 2010. 

It prompted more than 100 MPs to write to Oxford and Cambridge, calling on the universities to offer more places to students from underrepresented backgrounds. 

Samina Khan, head of admissions and outreach for Oxford University, was quoted by the Guardian as saying: “I think the admissions process here does work, it’s fair and it’s transparent. It’s a strength of our undergraduate admissions.” 

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Following the release of the figures, the university pledged to do more to diversify, including adding 500 extra places to its spring and summer school programmes, to go to students from underrepresented backgrounds. 

These holiday schools give students the chance to spend a week at the university and get support with the application process. Students who have attended the summer schools have a 34% success rate. 

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