‘40% of Students from 7% of Schools: Oxford University and the British Class System’

Common Ground Symposium: ‘Imperial Past, Unequal Present’
10th – 11th June 2017, University of Oxford

‘40% of Students from 7% of Schools: Oxford University and the British Class System’ – Panel Discussion
Saturday 10th June, 11am-12.30pm
Danson Room, Trinity College

Admission to Oxford University is framed as meritocratic – home to the ‘best and brightest’, where those who work the hardest will gain admission. Such a claim, given the demographics of the student body, equates the ‘best and brightest’ with a narrow social class of students: those who attend Oxford are disproportionately middle class, privately-educated, and white. While only 7% of the British population are privately educated, privately educated pupils represent as much as 40% of Oxford undergraduates.

This class-based inequality is further accentuated along racial lines: the success rate for black applicants was only 16.7% in 2016, compared to a success rate of 26.3% for their white counterparts.

Why is this the case?

We’re taking the issue straight to the University’s head of undergraduate admissions, to those involved with access work, and to experts on social inequality in the UK. This panel seeks to discuss how institutional classism and systemic racism affect admissions to Oxford, and what we can do to change things.


Eden is currently Vice-President for Access and Academic Affairs at Oxford University Students’ Union. Her academic work has focused on the achievements of women of colour in music history. She is interested in the impact of curriculum design on racism, and has campaigned for curriculum decolonisation. As Vice Present of OUSE, she has helped to found the new Class Act Campaign and pushed for improvements to access/admissions for BME students.

Dr Kirby worked in education policy at the Sutton Trust, an institution which aims to improve social mobility through education. The organisation has funded over 200 programmes, recognising that educational opportunities remain dominated by children from the most privileged homes. Dr Kirby then joined the University of Oxford as research associate on ‘The History of Dyslexia’ project. Dr Kirby’s academic background is in political geography; his current research interests are in the history of childhood and education, and the history of science and medicine.

Dr Khan is Oxford University’s Director of Undergraduate Admissions and Outreach. Prior to joining Oxford, she developed and implemented national policies on education and worked as the Policy Advisor for Edexcel Pearson. She has also represented the Examination Boards nationally as a Director for the Federation of Awarding Bodies and as a member of the Joint Council of Qualifications. Dr Khan has also been involved in encouraging BME students to apply to Oxford.

Dr Shaheen is Director of the Centre for Labour And Social Studies (CLASS). Prior to this, she was Head of Inequality and Sustainable Development at Save the Children UK and Senior Researcher on economic inequality at the New Economics Foundation. Dr Shaheen is an economist, activist and commentator, a regular contributor for Newsnight and Channel 4 News, and has worked with Channel 4 and the BBC to develop documentaries on inequality. Dr Shaheen was born and raised in East London, and is an alumna of St. John’s College, Oxford.

Naomi runs access scheme Target Oxbridge, which provides black BME students with advice and support in making applications to Oxbridge. Naomi is an alumna of Lincoln College, Oxford, where she obtained a First in PPE. She has previously worked in the Department of Education at the Civil Service, and as an advisor to the Treasury. She runs Target Oxbridge as part of her role as Schools, Universities and Data Manager for Rare Recruitment, a firm which seeks to assist people from BME and/or working-class backgrounds to make competitive applications to top employers.

Rebecca is the Widening Access Co-ordinator at the University of Oxford, and as such, responsible for all of Oxford’s university-level access work. She runs the annual access scheme UNIQ, which seeks to support the applications of students from lower-income backgrounds and state-schools. She also co-ordinates Oxford’s support for schemes like Target Oxbridge.

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