Oxford—the British university whose roots date back to the 11th century—has a pattern of taking in a lot of rich, white students. UK prime minister David Cameron called the school out this year for its historic homogeneity, noting there were recently only 27 black students among 2,500 incoming freshmen, and asking the selective college to do better.
The school’s response? It’s making progress. But on its own time.
Responding Monday to newly unveiled plans from the British government to make higher education more accountable, Oxford’s chancellor Chris Patten said he disagrees with the government’s insistence that elite schools should accept more students from a wider range of ethnic and racial backgrounds. Schools shouldn’t be required to meet any sort of diversity quota at all, he said.
Pattern, whose pre-Oxford career includes a politically conservative stint in parliament and the governorship of Hong Kong, told the Telegraph:
I am in favor of universities recognizing their responsibilities for promoting social inclusion. But I don’t think that if you want high-class universities, you should expect them to lower their standards in order to make up for some inadequacies in our secondary education system.
Nobody will explain to me how you can make a system of quotas work while retaining the highest admissions standards. Quotas must mean lower standards. There are better ways of addressing social inclusion at universities.
His comments come at a time when many institutions across the world are shamefacedly admitting the absence of diversity in their ranks—and, more importantly, recognizing this as a problem and vowing to do something about it.
When asked what Patten’s “better ways” of achieving social fairness might be, Oxford said it could not answer.