I was pleased last when I saw the Sunday Times front page on Sunday 31 January.
It quotes an opinion piece (£) the Prime Minister has written for the newspaper’s comment pages “A young black man is more likely to be in prison than at a top university” with a sub heading “PM lashes education, business, armed forces and police failing minorities”. The piece is actually more polite than that sub heading suggests.
I am really pleased to see that this being picked up at the top of Government (Sajid Javid was on the Marr Show also making the case forcefully) and am gutted by the response I’ve followed on Twitter and blogs.
The responses seem to fall into two, utterly infuriating, camps:
1. “David Cameron has not done enough about this in his 5 years as Prime Minister, therefore we must assume that this is insincere and that nothing will happen now.”
OK, maybe Cameron as Prime Minister has not done enough on race relations and opportunities for young people from minority ethnic communities, I’m not expert enough to comment on that. But even if that’s the case, does that make this article wrong? Is it wrong to point out that there are no Black Generals in the army? To highlight the fact that tiny numbers of black students are admitted to top universities? Then to commit to doing something about it? No, and it’s churlish not to accept it at face value. If you are uncertain about the Government’s commitment or even think that the proposals do not go far enough then hold them to account, keep reminding David Cameron and Sajid Javid of this for the next 5 years.
2. “This is political correctness gone mad . . . there’s no problem here, please move along”. The worst of this in a blog post on the Spectator’s site “David Cameron is wrong: there’s no racism at Oxford” (since updated to “David Cameron is wrong about Oxford and race”)
This is even worse. The Spectator blog piece corrects something David Cameron never said. Not at any one point did David Cameron use the term racism, let alone accuse Oxford or any other institution of being racist. Grow up, accept the facts, and find ways to do something about this.
In 2014, HEFCE published an analysis of undergraduate student achievement across English Universities. It showed that of students entering university with grades BBB (or equivalent) 72% of white students would gain a 1st or 2:1 grade compared to 56% of asian students and 53% of black students. A gap of almost 20%. Students entering HE with exactly the same grades achieving significantly different results and the only thing that separates them is their ethnic background. So please, no bleating about it being somebody else’s fault, or that universities can only deal with what they are passed on from schools.
This is not an easy challenge. Universities are not racist, neither consciously or subconsciously. If anything, universities have done more to tackle discrimination than most other institutions; but these facts cannot be ignored and the underlying problems must be identified, understood and tackled. Attacking the Prime Minister for saying so is just daft and is what really lets these young people down.