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History | Geography | Art & Design | Citizenship | PSHE

Photo of black Cambridge students goes viral

An image aimed at inspiring black people to apply to Cambridge has spread on social media. It revives a time-old debate: what can the UK’s top universities do about their diversity problem? “We did it,” says Donte Nembhard, a student of chemical engineering at Cambridge University. “Why can’t you?” Nembhard is one of the 14 black male undergraduates at the university to feature in a picture that has taken social media by storm. The image echoes the famous group photos of highly exclusive, all-white Oxbridge dining societies — but it sends the opposite signal. Uploaded to the Facebook page of Cambridge’s African Caribbean Society (ACS), the photo aims to encourage black people — who are under-represented at the university — to apply. Its message has resonated with the country: since Monday, it has been shared and retweeted thousands of times. Ethnic diversity in the UK’s top universities is a perennial issue. Of the 2,573 British students accepted to start as undergraduates at Cambridge in 2015, only 38 identified themselves as black. At Oxford, from a similar pool, the number was also 38; more came from Eton College. David Cameron, then prime minister, criticised the university for “not doing enough to attract talent from across our country”. Broaden the picture and the statistics improve somewhat. The proportion of black and minority ethnic students at Cambridge — and across the entire Russell Group of universities — is rising. Oxford offered a record number of places to state school students in 2016. Both universities spend large amounts on access and outreach programmes. Statistics aside, however, Oxbridge is still dogged by the stigma of racism. In 2015, one of Cambridge’s own academics branded the university “institutionally racist”. Earlier this year, an Oxford college caused an outcry when it circulated a CCTV image of a black student on its grounds, warning staff and students to “be vigilant”. The ACS does not blame Cambridge for the scarcity of black students — they praise “the hard work” of access officers. Rather, they want to dispel the assumption that it is not a place for people like them. Can their photo make a difference? Oxbridge so white Absolutely, say some. Few black people go to Oxbridge — but then few apply. These universities try hard to recruit them. The problem is that, in the public consciousness, they are for white, middle-class students. The fear of not fitting in is what puts minorities off. The more campaigns we have like the ACS’s, the faster this will change. If only it were so simple, reply others. The reasons for the lack of black applicants run deep in society. Black kids are more likely than white ones to come from poor areas and low-performing schools. Their grades are lower and they are not as wise to the “tricks” of the Oxbridge application system. More drastic measures are needed — like quotas. KeywordsEton College - Founded in 1440 by Henry VI, Eton has taught many royal pupils including Prince William and Prince Harry.

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