Oxbridge social exclusion data 'unlikely' to affect student fees vote

An FoI request by Labour MP David Lammy shows a bleak portrait of racial and social exclusion at Oxford and Cambridge universities, but public affairs professionals doubt the news will derail controversial plans to increase student fees.

Social exclusion issues: top universities such as Oxford
Social exclusion issues: top universities such as Oxford
On the eve of the crucial Commons vote on whether to raise tuition fees by up to £9,000 a year at top universities, official data has shown that over 20 Oxbridge colleges made no offers to black candidates for undergraduate courses last year and one Oxford college has not admitted a single black student in five years.

While the figures do appear to highlight the problem of social exclusion in higher education, PR experts say that the real issues begin much earlier in the education system, and the findings are unlikely to affect tomorrow’s vote.

Mark Pack, associate director at MHP Communications, said: ‘These figures do highlight how important the issue is, and I think it has some relevance, but the real issues about social exclusion in the education system kick in at a much earlier age.

‘If you start from the point of view of asking "how do we address this problem?" – you can’t simple look at post-18 financial arrangements.’

George Pascoe-Watson, partner at Portland, said that the information could bring pressure on Oxford and Cambridge to change their admissions policies. He commented: ‘Oxbridge colleges are clearly aware there is a perception problem, judging by the well-prepared defensive lines they have put out. It does seem their explanations hold water and they will clearly fight any attempt by ministers to impose new targets.
 
‘It is unlikely this story will change the result of Thursday’s vote. There is a far bigger principle at stake for all MPs – ensuring Britain’s universities offer world class education that people of all backgrounds are prepared to buy.’

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