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Oxford's ethnic challenge

Sir Peter North, the former Oxford University vice-chancellor, reporting on the university's future says that only 22 per cent of ethnic-minority applicants were admitted, against 29 per cent from the lowest three socio-economic groups and 34 per cent of all applicants (TES, February 6). The tantalising question - not answered - is what percentages of applicants from independent schools are admitted? Quite a lot I guess.

A second and equally important question is what percentage of all ethnic-minority students in the target age group apply to Oxford? The admittance statistics do not take account of the relative sizes of each of the population groups.

Account needs also to be taken of A-level results. Our recent study of 28,000 white and ethnic-minority young people aged 16-19 for the Department for Education and Employment shows there are considerable numbers of black and Asian students with good enough A-levels (as does the Policy Studies Institute report by Modood and Shiner). What we do not know is whether ethnic-minority young people, particularly those with working-class backgrounds, actually want to go to an elite university with a public school ethos.

It is not the intellectual challenge of Oxford that is forbidding to many potential ethnic-minority or working-class applicants (after all you can get in to Oxbridge with weak A-levels if you are a member of that most privileged and moneyed of groups, the royal family) but the atmosphere.

To say, based on its past record, as Sir Peter North does, that Oxford is firmly committed to equality of opportunity is a joke. The real question is what are they going to do about it?

DR DAVID DREW Head of consultancy in statistics Sheffield Hallam University and honorary research fellow in education University of Sheffield

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