It is that time of year when Oxford and Cambridge universities are in the doghouse again, accused of being biased against black students. A politician, Mr David Lammy, has called for special measures to be taken to boost the numbers of Africans at those universities. Calls like this seem to be accepted at face value, but universities are tertiary educators, fed by secondary schools. What does the pipeline deliver them?
Well, to get to a good university you need at least 3 A grades, and for the best colleges preferably 5, all in respectable, that is to say, hard subjects. For example, an A in Maths, and another A in Further Maths reassures good universities that the place they offer a candidate is unlikely to be wasted. If one looks at the average offer extended to Oxbridge candidates it is A*AA (three As, one of them being A starred). That is what they must get in their exams to secure a place, the actual subjects depending on what discipline they wish to read.
Here is the official Department of Education summary of the ethnic success rate in most recent results for 3 A grades.
3 A grades or better at A level was achieved by 24% of Chinese students, 11% of Mixed students, 11% of White students, 11% of Other ethnic group students, 10% of Asian students and 5% of Black students.
Chinese students were consistently most likely to achieve 3 A grades or better at A level and Traveller of Irish Heritage students and Gypsy/Roma students were least likely to.
The summary is not entirely clear about mixed students. The detailed tables are hard to display, so I have made a simplified version. By the way, two things should be borne in mind when considering the numbers of ethnic students who gain entry to highly selective universities: the percentage of each ethnic group who reach the basal standard, and the actual size of the ethnic group.
Oxford and Cambridge offer roughly 6,600 undergraduate places in total, and roughly five times as many students apply as are accepted. So, 7600 white students who reach the minimal standard do not get admitted to Oxbridge every year. Tough luck.
Every statistic based on ethnicity is influenced by the immigration history of the nation in question. For example, Black British used to mean “from the West Indies”. These are the group who have had most time to get the benefits of life in the United Kingdom, and are almost all British born, using the NHS from conception and the education system throughout. Now the African population is larger than the Caribbean population, a consequence of recent mass migration. Many will have been born abroad.The Indians in the UK are drawn from particular populations, and India is heterogenous as regards ability.
Many people will find the statistics startling. Can it really be the case that only 62 Black Caribbean students achieve 3 A grades? Here is a very rough calculation: assume 594,825 Caribbeans in the UK. Assume that, as for other populations, only 2.33% of that population are of an age to go to university, and that all apply. Assume that the best estimate of Afro-Caribbean intelligence is 90, and that IQ 130 is the minimal Oxbridge entrance requirement. In that case there will be 53 qualified applicants. This estimate is in broad agreement with the observed figure.
The larger (and very probably pre-selected) African ethnic group seems a more promising pool for recruitment, if the requirement is simply that the candidate be of African genetics. The African group is bimodal in terms of occupational level: lots of professional African immigrants, plus lots who are unemployed. They are drawn from a vast population.
The table is also informative about racial admixture. The children of Whites have gained by mixing with Asian genetic groups (actual group unspecified) and lost somewhat when mixing with Black Africans and more so with Black Caribbeans. Interestingly, the White/Black Caribbean mix of 11% and 3% pass rates results in exactly a 7% pass rate for the mixed group.
It seems that British people do not blink when it is proposed that another genetic group should be granted extra privileges. There is no call for White British candidates to be put on the same footing as Chinese and Indian students. I suppose the supposition is that they are brighter or studied harder, probably both.
It might help the public debate about university entry if more people were to look at the official education statistics. The focus of discussion may one day move to secondary schools. Then, after a while, it may move to primary schools and then kindergartens. Since racial differences in ability can be detected at age 3, expect special measures to be required for kindergartens.