Let’s talk about diversity at Oxbridge – from a PR perspective

The UK’s elite universities have a major problem, one that needs to be dealt with now rather than later. It’s a problem that probably won’t come as a major surprise to a lot of people which is a fact that is in itself disturbing and deeply upsetting. Everyone knows that Oxford and Cambridge are the best universities in the UK and that their student intake tends to consist of people from socially privileged backgrounds. A report published recently sparked controversy regarding Oxford and Cambridge University’s student admissions.“As part of a set of data released by the two universities that also revealed a stark regional and socio-economic divide in their intake, the figures showed that just 1.5% of all offers from the two universities to UK A-level students went to black British candidates.” This is completely unacceptable, it does not reflect the true diversity of the United Kingdom. The attitude of both of the Oxbridge universities in reaction to this also leaves a lot to be desired. From a PR perspective it does not seem like Oxford or Cambridge care enough about how this will negatively effect their public perception.

I always assumed that Oxford and Cambridge were universities reserved for those with superior intelligence (which is fine), and for those who come from a wealthy / upper middle class background (which is more problematic). It should not be like this, everyone who is intelligent enough should get the chance to go to Oxford or Cambridge. It is hard to blame students for feeling discouraged from applying to Oxbridge when media coverage of both universities seems to revolve around the lack of students from diverse backgrounds being able to attend these prestigious universities. I mean where is the incentive to apply when you feel that you might end up being marginalised? Thankfully for both Oxford and Cambridge some of their students have been taking their own action to combat this problem.  Student vloggers such as Mohammed Ibrahim (IbzMo), Courtney Daniella and Nissy Tee (who has now graduated) have been uploading videos to Youtube discussing the real issues that arise when attending these universities from a less “traditional” background.

I first stumbled across IbzMo’s channel in March of this year whilst I was finishing my undergraduate degree during a major procrastination session. I don’t know how I found his channel but I am very glad that I did. Mohammed has an enthusiasm for learning which is very infectious. His channel is fantastic, providing a real insight in to what it is like to be a student at the University of Cambridge from an ethnic minority background. From just taking a quick glance upon his twitter feed you can see the very real impact that his channel is having upon secondary school students throughout the UK. It is heartwarming to see how these school students are becoming empowered through Mohammed’s fine example. Representation is a key factor in encouraging students to see beyond the stereotypical view of the Oxbridge, at the end of the day Oxbridge should be for everyone not just privileged groups.

Courtney Daniella also does this on her Youtube channel with one of her most popular videos deals with encouraging young people from ethnic minority backgrounds to apply to Oxbridge universities. Sadly Courtney has been the victim of trolling in the past, receiving hateful comments that she only was able to attend Cambridge due to a diversity “quota” not due to her obviously high intelligence and individual talent. Despite these nasty comments Courtney continues to encourage diversity in higher education institutions and continues to act as a role model to those students who without her guidance and help may never have decided to apply to more prestigious universities. I am certainly very grateful to these student vloggers for highlighting these issues and for being brave enough to try and tackle these injustices. I just hope that Oxford and Cambridge will try and do more to support them in the future as they are carrying out vital PR work for both universities in terms of encouraging students from ethnic minority groups and lower income backgrounds to apply to these institutions, despite what the press and wider society might be saying about their chances in getting there.

Catherine Leonard is studying for a MSc in Communications and Public Relations with Political Lobbying at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter @CLeonard1212

 

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