Black students and asking the wrong questions

So, I didn’t win a data visu­al­isa­tion compet­i­tion. Oh well, fair enough — the data set we were given was quite simple — this is how many black students there are apply­ing for univer­sit­ies, and this is how many of them got into Oxford, Cambridge, Durham and UCL.

This was, I felt, the wrong ques­tion. I didn’t just want to track how black people weren’t getting into our top univer­sit­ies. I wanted to see if the (quite obvi­ous) bias really star­ted there. So that’s what I did, using UCAS’s really quite cool stat­ist­ical tool and the quite frankly amaz­ing Neighbourhood Statistics:

Now there aren’t as many black students as there are white in the UK, but to make for easier compar­ison I’ve star­ted them off on an equal foot­ing — conveni­ently ignor­ing all the social factors which usually mean they don’t. I star­ted with kids who took their GCSEs in 2006, and worked upwards to the latest lot who are just now off to University. Mathematics aren’t my strong suite, however, so please feel free to check I’ve got it right.

So as far as I can tell, as outrageous as it is that black students don’t get into our top univer­sit­ies with quite the ease they should, what’s even more outrageous is that’s despite being slightly ahead of the game the whole way through. Black students got more A*-C GCSE grades than white. At A‑level their grades weren’t quite as good as white students but they passed more subjects. A huge percent­age of black students actu­ally applied to go to univer­sity compared to white students, but less of them got in — not just to the top univer­sit­ies, but to all universities.

And to crown it all, the black students brave enough to apply to the very top of the University food chain here in the UK, Oxford and Cambridge, were less than twice as likely to get offered a place than if they happened to be white. Well, that’s just plain ridicu­lous, isn’t it?

I’d quite like to get data on the ethnic makeup of the top schools that tend to get accep­ted and combine the two.

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Corinne Pritchard

Information Designer at Simply Understand
I believe design and design­ers can and should make the world a better place. I love design­ing things that help people under­stand complex ideas.

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