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Entrenched privilege

Nov 20,2017
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All Souls College, one of 38 colleges at the University of Oxford, with particular strengths in the humanities and social and theoretical sciences, recruits only two students a year.
The data on students admitted to Oxbridge, a collective term for elite U.K. universities Oxford and Cambridge, was recently released. According to admissions data between 2010 and 2015 obtained by Labour MP David Lammy, 80 percent of the parents of students accepted to Oxbridge had high-income-earning professions such as doctors, lawyers and government officials. It is drastically higher than the national average of 31 percent for that income group. The portion of students falling into this income group increased from 79 percent in 2010 to 81 percent in 2015.

The geographical and regional divide was also more serious than expectation. In both universities, about 25 percent of the incoming students are from the top eight counties, which mostly include prosperous neighborhoods such as London and Richmond. Up to 48 percent of incoming students are from South East England, including London, and a very small number come from regions in Northern England.

Less than 1 percent of U.K. citizens graduate from Oxbridge, but they exert great influence in state administration as many Prime Ministers, judges, civil servants and journalists are graduates of the elite universities.

The evident regional bias shown in the admissions data garnered criticism. David Lammy said that the findings were shocking, saying that “in reality many Oxbridge colleges are still fiefdoms of entrenched privilege, the last bastions of the old school tie.” The Labour politician argued, “The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge receive over £800 million [$1 billion] each year directly from the taxes paid by our constituents, including the huge swathes of the country that are hugely under-represented with regards to the number of offers made to students from Oxbridge.”

In the United Kingdom, the structure has been established that students from elite private schools and top public grammar schools go on to prestigious universities. Working-class students have a tendency of not even considering Oxbridge.

Signs of change are beginning to show. This year, Mansfield College, the smallest of the colleges at the University of Oxford, filled nine out of ten seats with public school graduates. Up to 25 percent are non-white, and 25 percent are from Northern England. The college recruited outstanding applicants from public schools around the country.

While Mansfield College does not get big donations and is not financially affluent, it is raising funds for students from remote regions who cannot afford the train ticket to visit the school before entrance. Lammy said that Mansfield’s example shows that “the talent is there if Oxbridge colleges make it a priority to go out to hard-to-reach areas and find it.”

Korea’s College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) has been postponed due to an earthquake in Pohang. In Korean college admissions, students educated at specialized high schools, independent private schools and schools in Gangnam and certain districts have a notably higher acceptance rate to top universities. In most countries, establishing a proper ladder that helps class mobility is an urgent task.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 18, Page 26

*The author is the London correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

KIM SUNG-TAK