Call it ‘positive’ if you want, but it’s still just racial discrimination
Why is Oxford trying to row back on its decision not to leap at an offer of two undergraduate scholarships sponsored by Stormzy, open only to black students?
According to the grime music artist, Oxford turned him down and so he took his offer to an eager Cambridge instead. Following criticism from Labour’s chief spokesman on grievance issues, David Lammy, and others, Oxford now seems to be retreating, saying that it would like to work with Stormzy after all.
But Oxford was right the first time and Cambridge was wrong. Such scholarships are racially discriminatory. Bizarrely, the Equality Act seems to tolerate such a practice – it allows exceptions to a general ban on discrimination in the provision of goods and services where the aim is to help under-represented groups.
Yet there is no obvious underrepresentation of black people at Oxford. You can just about squeeze some out with imaginative use of statistics – by asserting that only
1.9 per cent of Oxford’s undergraduate intake last year identified as black, compared with 3 per cent of the UK population as a whole. But you can equally well use the statistics to make a case that Oxford is bending over backwards to admit black students – given that black students accounted for only 1.8 per cent of UK students with three As at A-level or better. Moreover, it ought to have been harder for black applicants to be admitted to Oxford because they applied in disproportionate numbers for the more competitive courses – 28 per cent applied to read medicine or law. That’s aside from pointing out that people of white ethnicity are also technically under-represented at British universities, given that they form 81.7 percent of the UK population but only 75.3 percent of students.
Some might counter that Stormzy’s scholarship will help black people from deprived backgrounds. “The studentships are a beacon for black students who might otherwise have felt they could not come to Cambridge,” according to the university’s vicechancellor, and Stormzy has said that he wants the scholarships to find “genius and incredible minds” within the “badly behaved kids”. But there are many white working-class children from challenging backgrounds in this country, too. If a celebrity floated the idea of a special Oxbridge fund open only to white children there would be outrage, and rightly so.
The discriminatory nature of Stormzy’s philanthropy will be counter-productive, however well meant. For a society that is supposed to have moved on from the days when landlords were allowed to put up signs saying “no blacks, no Irish”, are we not institutionalising the division of society by ethnic and racial groups?
There is no such thing as “positive” discrimination. It is just plain discrimination, and a baleful influence on national life. FOLLOW Ross Clark on Twitter @Rossjournoclark; READ MORE at telegraph.co.uk/opinion
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