Call it ‘pos­i­tive’ if you want, but it’s still just ra­cial dis­crim­i­na­tion

The Daily Telegraph - - Comment - ROSS CLARK

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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