Photo of black Cambridge students goes viral

Black to the future: At the time of writing, this photo has been liked 4,000 times on Facebook.

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?

The image echoes the famous group photos of highly exclusive, all-white Oxbridge dining societies. But it sends the opposite signal: all 14 students are black.

Uploaded to the Facebook page of Cambridge’s African Caribbean Society (ACS), the photo aims to encourage black people — who are underrepresented at the university — to apply. 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 Cambridge in 2015, only 38 identified as black. At Oxford, from a similar pool, the number was also 38; more came from Eton College.

Statistics aside, 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 wants to dispel the assumption that Cambridge is not a place for people like them. Can their photo make a difference?

Oxbridge so white

Yes, 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.

It isn’t 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.

You Decide

  1. Are you interested in applying to Oxbridge?


  1. In groups of four, pick a social issue you feel strongly about. Then stage a photo designed to raise awareness of the issue, and show it to the class.

Some People Say...

“Britain is a meritocratic society.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
In 2015, 16.4% of black applicants to Cambridge were accepted, as opposed to 28.9% of white ones. At Oxford, the figures were 13.5% and 25.0%. In other words, even when they do apply to Oxbridge, black people are less likely to be accepted than white applicants.
What do we not know?
Whether this is due to racism on the part of application officials or deeper problems with society.

Word Watch

A nickname for Oxford and Cambridge.
Eton College
The UK’s most famous school has become a symbol of privilege and class. Almost a third of its pupils go on to Oxbridge.
Oxford and Cambridge comprise dozens of colleges, which oversee many aspects of students’ lives and studies. This structure is unusual among British universities.
For example, many private schools train pupils for the tricky Oxbridge application interviews. They also sometimes help pupils choose courses and colleges with good odds for acceptance.

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