Oxford University has demanded a correction from the Prime Minister after he claimed that figures showed only one black student was admitted to Oxford last year. It was actually one black student of Caribbean origin; 41 black students were admitted and one fifth of all students were from ethnic minority backgrounds. No 10 is sticking with what the PM said because it was about the wider issue. In a Harrogate tea-shop the PM said, “we’ve got to do better than that”. He went on:
“I personally can't see that quotas are the answer but I am reluctant to rule out any possibility given that the situation is so dire and in some cases we appear to be going backwards.”
No one expected David Cameron to be a radical Tory. But this is too much. Quotas and politico pandering and fuzzy notions of equality should not be a short cut for getting people into university: that would be as bad as the Deputy Prime Minister’s idea that state school pupils with lower grades should be admitted to top-flight institutions. Open competition produces the best results. If we want students from the state sector to be able to compete, it needs to improve.
The academy programme is a good start: the number of academies is going up rapidly, and the results will follow. The worst school in the country ten years ago is now a thriving academy with ten Cambridge successes this year. Removing the school from political control gave it the freedom to flourish.
As Chancellor, Gordon Brown passed comment about a young girl who was turned down by Oxford for medicine. She was from a state school and had a large clutch of A grades. Gordon thought this was a sign of closed-door privilege and elitism, or something. Magdalen College told the girl she would be better off doing Biochemistry, which she then did at a top American university. Because they were right.
So how can we improve the number of places at Oxford going to black people, or poor people? Well, first we should demolish the Department for Education, and then fire everyone who works for an LEA (and watch Labour squeal about ideologically driven cuts). We should free up state schools to better educate children. And most importantly we could stop discussing gender, race, religion and wealth – and look at ability and achievement. Just like the best way a government can help the poor is to cut tax, the best way it can help the under-educated is to cut state interference.