The Labour MP and former higher education minister David Lammy, writing in the Guardian on 6 December, reported back on responses to a series of Freedom of Information requests which suggest that getting a place at Oxford and Cambridge "remains a matter of being white, middle-class and southern". He noted that David Cameron's alma mater Brasenose College, Oxford, recruits 92 per cent of its students from the top three social classes - the sons and daughters of solicitors and accountants. The average for UK universities is 65 per cent. Lammy also found that only one British, black, Caribbean student was admitted to Oxford last year. Merton College has not admitted a single black student in five years. Black students are applying - but they are not being accepted.
Cameron reiterated concerns on 8 December that the current system had hurt social mobility, saying: "Oxford and Cambridge take more students each year from just two schools - Eton and Westminster - than from among the 80,000 pupils who are eligible for free school meals." It isn't that way where I work. More than a third of Dartmouth's students are minorities, including 7.6 per cent African Americans. Thirteen per cent of our students receive Pell Grants, which are given to students with family incomes under $20,000. Some 10 per cent are the first generation in their family to attend college.
We operate needs-blind admissions, even for foreign students, which means that if you are poor, we pay. Harvard, Princeton and Yale operate comparable policies and have similarly diverse student bodies. There are no sports or merit scholarships in the Ivy League. US universities generally do not just look at the results of SAT test scores, but look more broadly at achievement to ensure the system doesn't work against those from poorer backgrounds. Dartmouth gives particular weight to an individual's high-school rank. Over a third of our students are first in their high-school class, the so-called valedictorians.To put it bluntly, the idea is to ensure that there is a level playing field, so that the (smarter) black youngster with a slightly lower SAT score from a poor family in the Bronx is able to compete on more equal terms against the (dumber) rich white boy with an expensive private education and a higher SAT score achieved in no small part by lots of tutoring for the test. This is about trying to determine ability and potential. Harvard and Dartmouth take the black kid from the Bronx with an off-the-scale IQ, who will get a free ride for all four years. Oxford takes the rich white guy.