“No room for complacency in increasing black student representation at Oxbridge”

Post-pandemic educational barriers mean there is no room for complacency to ensure good representation of black students at Oxbridge, a diversity and inclusion leader has warned.

Black Year 12 students have suffered from increased levels of anxiety, having been disproportionately affected by the fallout from the coronavirus outbreak, program founder Target Oxbridge said.

Naomi Kellman said there could be similar challenges for younger students hoping to attend the UK’s elite universities in years to come, having weathered educational disruption and coping with the ripple effects .

Target Oxbridge said it has supported more than 350 black students to secure Oxbridge offers, “helping to transform the narrative about who belongs at Oxford and Cambridge universities”.

The programme, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, said it was “pleased to have contributed to such a significant change” in the levels of representation at the two universities.

When the scheme launched, black African and Caribbean students made up around 1% of UK-based students attending Oxbridge, although they made up 5% of the A-level population, Target Oxbridge said.

By 2021, the figure of UK-domiciled black students accepted at Oxbridge had risen to 4%, Target Oxbridge said, with almost a quarter (24%) of black students accepted at the two universities being program alumni .

The number of British undergraduates of Black African or Black Caribbean descent admitted to Oxford rose from 1.9% in 2017 to 3.5% last year, while Cambridge admitted 128 Black British students from undergraduates last year, up from 26 in 2011.

Ms Kellman welcomed progress but said efforts must continue, particularly over the next few years, as the aftermath of the pandemic is still being felt.

She said there had been 60 offers for Target Oxbridge attendees this year, up from 74 last year.

She told the PA news agency: ‘Black students are one of the hardest hit by the pandemic and we could see these effects play out over the next two, three or four years in terms of what it will mean for success, confidence, how many people feel able to put themselves forward for Oxbridge.

“And as much as the outcome right now is really good and we’re really happy, we know we can’t be complacent about it because recent circumstances mean black students are going to face a lot of hurdles in their education. . because of these pandemic effects which affect them disproportionately”.

She said some students in the program – which was launched in 2012 to help improve the representation of black students at both universities – have expressed doubts about their abilities due to the fact that they did not pass the exams. traditional GCSE exams and that they missed some learning when schools closed. confinement.

Target Oxbridge was launched in 2012 to help improve the representation of black students at Oxford and Cambridge (Nicholas T Ansell/PA)

She said: “What we are seeing with our current Year 12 students is an increase in anxiety levels, and that is something we have seen increase during the pandemic. It’s totally understandable and I think the whole education sector sees it.

“Students are reporting more anxiety, more mental health issues because they’ve been through such a difficult time and need to make these big life decisions and perform at a higher level, having lived through this pandemic over the course of of their formative years, in a very difficult scenario.

“And so we are very aware of that. And I think that might be the challenge for future cohorts – the fact that they’ve done year 9, year 10, year 11 in a pandemic. That’s a lot of stress they’re carrying and they’re bringing it to their A levels now, which is a stressful time. So we are very careful about that.

She said that despite the students doing well, they have “an additional worry about the cohort that didn’t go through a pandemic, so that’s something I think anyone working with students should be aware of. over the next few years”.

Tom Levinson, head of broadening participation at Cambridge, said the university’s work on improving representation was “far from done”, while Oxford said its efforts were ” In progress”.

Mr Levinson said: “Over the past 10 years we have seen a significant increase in the number of black British students being admitted to Cambridge.

“The work we are doing with Target Oxbridge has been a major factor in this. The effort to make the university more representative of society at large is far from over, and we look forward to continuing our collaboration with the program.

A University of Oxford spokeswoman said: “Over the past five years, the number of British undergraduates of Black African or Black Caribbean descent admitted to Oxford has increased by 1 each year, 9% to 3.5%.

“The proportion of undergraduate students identifying as black and belonging to an ethnic minority also increased from 18% to 25%.

“It reflects our ongoing work to ensure that the most academically gifted students in the country aspire to study at Oxford and have a fair chance of admission.”

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