BME students don’t need a leg-up
Universities are under pressure to publish the ethnicity, gender and socio-economic background of their intake, in what some ministers are calling a ‘transparency revolution’. This comes after a new white paper has condemned top universities for failing to increase their intake of black and minority ethnic (BME) applicants.
UK prime minister David Cameron has supported the move, but some university leaders have questioned the legitimacy of focusing on race over academic ability. The chancellor of the University of Oxford, Lord Patten, criticised the paper, arguing that, ‘quotas must mean lower standards. There are better ways of addressing social inclusion at universities.’
Patten is absolutely right, but he didn’t go far enough. Not only would quotas reduce academic standards, they would also foster the belief that BME students in particular need a leg-up to achieve a place at a top university. Shipping in ethnic-minority students in order to improve diversity statistics would lead to an unfair and ugly admissions process, which would judge applicants on the basis of their race rather than their academic ability.
What’s more, this tokenism blinds us to what is really behind the attainment gap in education. While many argue that a racist admissions process is preventing BME students from being admitted to top universities, the real barrier is the unsatisfactory quality of many state comprehensives around the country. Rather than propagate the myth that BME students face racial barriers, we need to address the low standards of the state sector.
It is not the responsibility of universities to address the failings of state schools, which prevent many students – irrespective of race – from securing a place at university. If universities did change their applications policy, it would lead to unqualified applicants taking up undeserved places. Worse still, it would perpetuate the idea that BME students are incapable of succeeding on their own.
Elrica Degirmen is a writer and a student.