Category: Higher Education

David Lammy on Oxford elitism and his responses to racist comment on social media

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David Lammy

Oxford University has published data about its undergraduate admissions for the first time. The figures showed a continuing inequality gap in offered opportunities to study based on race and economic status. 

The 850-year-old university published data that was intended to challenge the views that it endured as a place of white, wealth-driven privilege and elitism.

The statistics offer some very worrying insights into a clear lack of representative diversity among undergraduate admissions. In a breakdown of admissions to the 29 individual colleges that are the blocks of Oxford’s academic structure, eight — including some of the most prestigious — failed to admit a single black Briton in one or more of the years from 2015 to 2017.

Oxford University has had to apologise to David Lammy after retweeting a post labelling his legitimate criticism “bitter”.

The original tweet, sent by a student, was in response to the Labour MP saying Oxford was “a bastion of white, middle class, southern privilege”.

Lammy asked if the tweet represented the university’s official position – at which point a senior staff member apologised and took responsibility.

Cherwell, a student newspaper at Oxford, reported on Wednesday that the university had admitted more students in 2017 from a single London private school, than it had admitted black undergraduates from the rest of Britain. .

Lammy’s original remarks came as Oxford University data revealed that eight of its 29 colleges included in the report accepted fewer than three black applicants in the past three years.

The university has a total of 38 colleges and permanent private halls. The university said it was “not getting the right number of black people with the talent to apply”.

Director of undergraduate admissions, Dr Samina Khan, said she was “pushing hard” on outreach activity to make sure those students felt welcome.

The proportion of Oxford students identifying as black and minority ethnic was 18% in 2017, up from 14% in 2013. However, that figure still falls below the wider UK university average of 25%.

The most recent UK census showed 14% of the UK population identifies as black or minority ethnic. Data in the university’s report showed that, of the students that achieved three ‘A’ grades or higher in their A-levels nationwide, 20% identified as black and minority ethnic.

One college, Corpus Christi, which has around 350 students, admitted just one black student resident in the UK in its 2015-2017 intakes. Balliol college, which has around 680 students, admitted two black and minority ethnic students over the same period, despite receiving 46 applications.

The number of admissions from state schools, during the same period, rose by just 1%, from 57% to 58%. 

Oxford’s intake also displayed a substantial geographic imbalance between the north of Britain and the more affluent south. London and the South East made up 46.7% of UK applications between 2015 and 2017, (and 47.9% of students admitted) while the North East accounted for 2% (2.3% admitted).

“Oxford reflects the inequalities — socio-economic, ethnic and regional — that exist in British society,” Louise Richardson, the university’s vice chancellor, said in a foreword to the report.

The picture that emergesis of a university which is changing: evolving fast for an institution of its age and standing, but perhaps too slowly to meet public expectations. It is a picture of progress on a great many fronts, but with work remaining to be done,” she added

In a section titled Key Points, the report focused on progress in admissions, including “more women admitted than men in 2017” and higher proportions of undergraduate admissions among groups that were traditionally disadvantaged.

According to the Cherwell article, “17 of the top 20 schools for Oxford admissions in 2017 are fee-paying, while the other three are prestigious grammar schools.” Additionally, the newspaper said, state-educated students tended to apply to the most oversubscribed subjects, lowering their prospects, while applicants from private schools tended to apply to less sought-after courses, such as classics or modern languages. 

Lammy, a former education minister who has campaigned against what he has called “social apartheid” at Oxford, said the latest figures showed that the university was “an institution defined by entrenched privilege that is the preserve of wealthy white students from London and the Southeast.”

Lammy previously accused the university of “social apartheid“, after a Freedom of Information (FoI) request by him revealed 10 out of 32 Oxford colleges did not award a place to any black British pupil with A-levels in 2015.

This prompted more than 100 MPs to write to Oxford and Cambridge urging the universities to recruit more students from disadvantaged and under-represented backgrounds.

Reacting to the latest figures, Lammy said the problem was “self-perpetuating”.

He added “If you’re on the 20th floor of a tower block estate and you’re getting straight A’s, you apply, go for a difficult interview.. you don’t get in, then none of the other kids apply the following year.”

Some of the responses on Twitter to Lammy’s reasonable and empirically evidenced comments are dismally and appallingly racist:

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Walker has since deleted his tweet, following Lammy’s neat shot response:

And then this oik piped up:

And the response:

A spokesperson for Lammy recently told the BBC: “David regularly receives abusive and malicious communications, often of a racist nature.

“All such letters are passed onto the police. As David has made clear, receiving racist abuse will not have any impact on his work.”

In April, the Labour MP posted an image of a letter he received after he criticised the government’s handling of the deportation of Windrush migrants.

The offensive note told  Lammy to “be grateful that we have taken you in as a black man” and suggested he “go back to your country”.

Lammy pointed out that he was born in Whittington Hospital in north London.

He shouldn’t have had to. It’s a disgrace in a so-called civilised society that anyone has to confront racist and abusive comments. The barrage of hate that Lammy and others are subjected to on a regular basis is in part a product of an increasingly divided and prejudiced society. One which the government has contributed to by role modelling prejudiced and discriminatory behaviours, which in turn signals permission for citizens to do the same.

As Lammy says: “At root the hostile environment is a policy rooted in pernicious cruelty designed to make life so difficult for people who are here legally that they simply give up and, as suggested by Theresa May’s vans, “go home”. (…) A minister falling on their sword is usually an attempt to draw a line under a scandal and encourage the media to move on.

“But the person sat in the hot seat at the Home Office makes no difference to the thousands of people suffering as a result of the hostile environment policy. An unjust law is no law at all. The Windrush generation will not get justice until it is the law that is changed, not just the home secretary.” 

Attitudes, behaviours and ideologies that foster division, inequality, prejudice  and discrimination must also change. 

That is unlikely to happen under a Conservative government

 


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The debate on tuition fees today was a prime example of Tory abuse and bullying

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Today the Speaker of the House of Commons,  John Bercow, was forced to intervene in debate and issue reprimands because of the deplorable behaviour of hectoring and abusive Conservative MPs, who persistently heckled and shouted over Labour’s Angela Rayner’s questions and responses. 

Corbyn promised to scrap university tuition fees. And he will

The Labour party gained a huge swell of student support when they made a manifesto pledge to scrap tuition fees, which increased to £9,000-a-year under the coalition government in 2012. 

However, many recent graduates complained that the pledge was “unfair”, leaving them as a “collateral damage generation” when it comes to tuition fees. Corbyn sympathised with the group, and hinted he may try to find a way of ameliorating or wiping tuition fees debt for thousands of graduates if he was elected on June 8. 

The problem is that if Labour’s tuition fee policy were to be implemented from 2018, students who began three-year degrees between 2012 and 2015 will be the only ones left with £27,000 worth of tuition fee debt.  

Speaking to the NME, Corbyn acknowledged that: “Yes, there is a block of those that currently have a massive debt, and I’m looking at ways that we could reduce that, ameliorate that, lengthen the period of paying it off, or some other means of reducing that debt burden.” 

However, Corbyn admitted at the time that he’s not sure how he would fund such a scheme – in 2013 alone, almost 496,000 people started full-time undergraduate courses in the UK. 

He said: “I don’t have the simple answer for it yet – I don’t think anybody would expect me to, because this election was called unexpectedly; we had two weeks to prepare all this – but I’m very well aware of that problem.” 

“And I don’t see why those that had the historical misfortune to be at university during the £9,000 period should be burdened excessively compared to those that went before or those that come after. I will deal with it. ” 

The Labour party have pledged to scrap tuition fees in their manifesto. That pledge will be honoured in the event of a Labour government. Although there is no pledge to cancel out the debt of those who have already graduated, Corbyn did commit to at least exploring ways of helping graduates to ameliorate their massive debt burden.

The Conservatives have claimed that the Labour party have “broken a promise” to reimburse students who have already graduated. However, that promise was never made. Nor is it in the Labour manifesto. What the shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, and other MPs have said is that finding the money to do this would be difficult, but nonetheless they will at least try to do so. I think that is refreshingly fair and honest. 

That didn’t stop Conservative MP Amanda Milling MP saying: “Yet another member of Jeremy Corbyn’s top team backtracks on Labour’s promise on student debt – betraying many of the young people who voted for them.” 

She may want to consider that sentence more carefully. The real betrayal was the tripling of student tuition fees, brought in under the Tory-led Coalition. If she considers the acknowledgement of difficulties in reimbursing graduates “a betrayal”, then surely she must also concede that the act of raising of tuition fees and inflicting such massive debts on young people as a result constituted the betrayal in the first place. 

The pledge to scrap tuition fees IS in Labour’s manifesto, and that pledge will be honoured. 

The Tories frequently like to take quotes out of context in order to smear the opposition, and mislead the public. That’s because they cannot win debates with honest, legitimate and rational argument.

The following excerpt is taken from an NME  interview with Jeremy Corbyn on the issue of student debt:

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Speaking to HuffPost UK in May, a Labour Party spokesperson said: We think that it is deeply unfair that a generation has been saddled with huge debts since the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition trebled fees in 2012, and will look for ways to ameliorate this debt burden in future.”  

In May, Corbyn also said he would look at ways to reduce the tuition fee debt of former students, adding : “‘We’ve not got a policy or proposal on it. There wasn’t time between the announcement of the election and the publication of the manifesto but I do understand that point and I’m entirely sympathetic to it.” 

Despite claiming that there is “no magic money tree” when it comes to ensuring that people aren’t individually saddled with the nation’s huge debt, Damian Green has since said that cutting university bills needs a “national debate” in response to Labour winning over youth voters with their manifesto promise to scrap tuition fees. This is a move is all about the Tories winning elections and clinging onto power, rather than about a genuine interest in student debt and wellbeing. If you want a vote from students, then include them in your policy and economic decision-making, rather than marginalising them year in year out. 

Many Tory MPs are angry about the fact that despite their high profile, media amplified, deplorable and persistent personalised smear campaign, Labour received a higher number of votes than they had expected, based on a democratically inclusive manifesto and costed policies.

Disabled people also welcomed the disabled people’s manifesto from Labour, which was also economically inclusive, after five years of Conservative policy that has systematically marginalised us, causing distress and harm, as well as contravening our human rights. That the Conservatives regard this democratic and economic inclusion of the social outgroups they themselves have created as “bribery” speaks volumes about their own nasty authoritarian mindset.

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner has said: “If they [the Conservatives] want a debate on fees they could start by allowing one in the Commons on their latest fee hike, along with a vote.” 

Rayner, the Shadow Education Secretary, made the application for a debate in the Commons after a previous one scheduled for 19 April – the day after Theresa May called the general election – was cancelled.

MPs had been due to debate a decision made last year to raise university fees to £9,250 from £9,000 per year from 2017 and then with inflation in subsequent years. 

Rayner went on: “Oddly, Mr Speaker, they have been determined not to grant the House a vote since that election,” adding that her party had raised the issue on multiple occasions and had received a letter from Andrea Leadsom, the Commons leader, saying there were no plans to schedule these debates in Government time.

“Both universities and thousands of students across the country are now uncertain about the rate of tuition fees that can be charged,” Ms Rayner added. ”With neither Government nor opposition time being provided, we have no choice but to use Standing Order 24.

“So, Mr Speaker, 109 days since it was first promised by ministers, I ask leave of the House for an emergency debate on their plans to raise tuition fees.” 

Approving the application, John Bercow, the Speaker, said the emergency debate will now take place following the Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday (today) – the penultimate day of Government before the summer parliamentary recess. 

The Conservatives have, despite having absolutely no policies that would benefit students, attempted to use the right wing media’s limp and dishonest”pledge breaking” accusations as a blatant attempt to try to discourage students from voting Labour. Additionally, 38 Tory MPs have labelled student voters as “frauds”, claiming that they voted twice, when the electoral commission has found no hard evidence of these claims, just hearsay from the Conservatives. This is an utterly deplorable, dishonest and authoritarian way of conducting what should be democratic political debate. 

Today’s debate

Tory MPs behaved disgracefully, hectoring and refusing to listen and talking over opposition responses pretty much all the way through the debate. They were given a slap down for failing to listen to shadow education secretary Angela Rayner and shouting over her during the emergency debate on tuition fees. The debate was called because the Conservatives used a statutory instrument to push their policy on tuition fees. Statutory instruments are usually reserved for uncontroversial policies, but increasingly, the Conservatives have used them to push through controversial legislation which enables them to pass legislation and amendments without proper parliamentary scrutiny and debate.

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The significant increase in the use of statutory instruments by the Conservatives to pass unpopular policies, which bypasses proper democratic scrutiny and signals their authoritarianism loud and clear

Statutory Instruments are the principal form in which delegated legislation is made, and are intended to be used for simple, non-controversial measures, in contrast to more complex items of primary legislation (known as Bills.) The opposition has frequently complained that the Government uses Statutory Instruments to pass complex and controversial legislation which should have been subject to full Parliamentary scrutiny. Universal credit, the legal aid and tax credit cuts are clear examples of the misuse of secondary legislation, each with far-reaching and detrimental socioeconomic consequences for many people.

More Tory hectoring and bullying tactics – another hallmark of authoritarianism 

Speaker John Bercow was forced to intervene after Conservative MPs repeatedly interrupted the Labour politician, who eventually said she would refuse to take any more interventions. 

Bercow said: “It is normal manners and parliamentary etiquette that a member is given the chance to respond to an intervention before being hollered at to take another.

“It’s not a laughing matter. I am telling you what the situation is, and you can accept it whether you like it or not.  Behave.” Bercow also reprimanded the Conservative minister he addressed for smirking at him. 

Throughout the debate, Tory ministers behaved deplorably, heckled, sneered and spoke over the opposition’s questions and responses and repeatedly tried to claim that scrapping “all student debt” was a Labour policy, attempting to divert the debate.

Again, the policy that was stated clearly in the Labour party’s manifesto is the scrapping of tuition fees. The intention to look further at the wider impact of graduate debt was stated in an interview with NME. Yet Tory MPs repeatedly misquoted the NME interview claiming it was a “policy”.

Meanwhile, Labour ARE looking at feasible ways of ameliorating student debt.

Absolutely disgraceful conduct and claims from Tory ministers, which are being intentionally used as a crib sheet propaganda tactic to mislead the public and divert democratic debate.

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Labour’s shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner

You can read today’s full debate here on Hansard.

 

Related

It’s time the government took some lessons in the ethical use of power and influence amid the discussion about abuse

 


 

I don’t make any money from my work and I am not funded. I am disabled because of illness and struggle to get by. But you can help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others, by making a donation. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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Unethical academics are making a mockery of our education system

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Here are two short articles from the Guardian’s Academics Anonymous, which provide insight into two particular problems experienced in universities.

A culture of unethical behaviour is thriving at our universities. But these are publicly funded institutions – and must be held to account.

On the face of it, ethics in academia have transformed over the past few decades – most, if not all, universities now have ethics committees to oversee the quality of research. Yet experience has shown me that, in reality, many academics pay little heed to ethics.

What qualifies as research is open to question, and increasingly academics working in non-traditional areas are not even engaging with the ethics committee at their own universities. Worse, educators are behaving unethically with respect to the university more widely, their professions and the UK taxpayer.

There are academics who have full-time corporate jobs while also receiving a university salary. There are clear examples in many Russell Group institutions. There are academics from professions such as medicine, engineering, law and archaeology who have either part-time or full-time contracts with other employers. Particularly worthy of note are the law academics who work full-time in practice at a law firm while also receiving a full-time university or college salary. 

Is the taxpayer subsidising the legal profession? And what happens to the independence of their university research? The boundaries of these moonlighting academic researchers are defined by their commercial practice.

Some seem not to have much real interest in being academics at all. Yet they are able to use academic titles to give them independent expert status in industry, build a career outside of academia, and ultimately gain financial recompense far greater than an academic salary.

These are not isolated cases, and universities contain many examples of other ways the system is being exploited. At one university, for example, an academic paid about £20,000 to hire a room less than 100m from their university for an event more about self-promotion than academic content.

I’ve witnessed academics hiring students to work on external career projects despite the fact that they are paid by the university. I’ve seen them fixing research contracts at part-time rates of pay while expecting the person to work full time, when full-time contracts are available. Others use their expertise to accredit foreign items looted from war-torn countries for auction houses and the wealthy elite (giving some form of provenance to the stolen treasure, be that through inclusion in an academic article, translating writing on the object, or providing a history of the object for a seller or owner).

Then there are the academics at prestigious institutions who spend just one day a week during term time at their universities, while living and working in other countries. They have signed contracts stating they will contribute to university life – but this is hardly possible if they’re located elsewhere.

No one is begrudging academic success, or ignoring other honourable academics who spend their free time lecturing classes – even at weekends, and for free, in some cases. But there is a widespread cultural problem surrounding ethics at universities.

There is little attention paid to how academics behave or deliver their duties. The remit of university ethics committees – which have clearly not stayed in touch with the issues – needs to be extended to include the decision-making of these academics. Universities are publicly funded institutions and play an important role in societal development. The taxpayer and the students paying high fees should be demanding answers.

If we the educators, paid for by the British taxpayer, do not operate and practise with the strictest ethical codes, how can we expect the rest of society to adopt sound ethical standards? Not only this, but the value of a university education is being diminished.

The ethics problem is systemic, but the solution is simple: academics should be made to disclose conflicts of interest in their jobs, and disclose external contracts and earnings to their university and the public. It is time to relieve the taxpayer of these unethical academics – and ensure that research independence, ethical behaviour and accountability are passed on to the next generation of students, academics and professionals.

Related

Rogue company Unum’s profiteering hand in the government’s work, health and disability green paperwhich in part lays out an account of the revolving door between corrupt corporate and political institutions and handful of careerist academics spinning out a lucrative, ideological and neoliberal niche for themselves.

I’m an academic but I took a corporate job. Should I be ashamed?

 

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I’m a British academic, but no longer feel welcome in the UK

Much has been written about the possible brain drain among European nationals following the Brexit vote. A huge 76% of European academics are thinking about leaving the UK. But they aren’t the only ones who feel unwelcome here. I’m a British academic, and I’m leaving to take up a post in Europe.

Thanks to now-mainstream racist and anti-immigration discourses and policies, I no longer feel at home here. For me, Brexit is the last straw, building on foundations laid by the government’s net migration policy (upheld by the supreme court last week). Introduced in 2012 to reduce immigration to “sustainable levels” by limiting family reunification, it has directly undermined my right to family life.

My personal experience of the policy began when I married a non-EU citizen in 2011 while conducting doctoral fieldwork in his home country. Although we’ve now been married six years, my husband has never been able to enter the UK. Our first application for a tourist visa, so that he could meet my family over Christmas in 2012, was rejected on the grounds that I did not have sufficient savings. 

I couldn’t apply for a two-year “leave to enter” visa for him either, because despite juggling part-time teaching and consultancy contracts, I didn’t earn over the £18,600 net income threshold that permits British nationals to invite a non-EU spouse. This threshold is designed to bar entry to individuals who would end up claiming benefits, but ignores other types of assets. In my case, I lived rent-free with my parents so my husband and I would never have had to seek recourse to public funds.

It is estimated that the threshold affects just over 40% of the British working population and discriminates against women in particular. As many as 17,800 families can be broken up each year, and in many cases the policy has actually created de facto single parents reliant on the welfare state.

I now have a full-time job at a university I adore, where I did two Master’s degrees and my PhD. The combination of departments and research centres at my institution makes it the perfect place for me to work. I take great pleasure in my job, which involves supporting less privileged students to enter higher education. And I have been lucky in that my supervisers and colleagues have been unwaveringly supportive, both professionally and emotionally.

I always assumed that I would settle with my husband in the UK, given my strong networks in British academia and the fact that my biological family all live here. But the most my husband and I see each other in person is for one to two weeks up to three times a year, and we maintain our relationship through Skype. Although we would love to start a family, we’ve postponed having children for several years as I couldn’t face the insecurity of giving birth to and raising a baby without him.

I now earn enough to bring my husband to the UK, but applications for “leave to enter” and especially “permanent settlement” are extremely onerous and expensive (£1,500 for the former and £6,000 for the latter). This is compounded by the fact that English is not the official language in his home country, so for permanent settlement he must pass exams requiring a standard of English well beyond that needed for everyday life in the UK. Because he also presents dyslexia symptoms, we would face the cost of years of private language lessons if we are to live together.

Like many other couples, the hurdles, uncertainty, and ongoing distance between us have negatively affected us both financially and emotionally. Until I recently secured a contract at a European university, we were in a constant state of anxiety as to whether we would ever find a solution to our situation.

Incredibly, I have more rights in Europe than I do in Britain as a British citizen. European countries realise the value of highly-skilled employees in making their universities competitive. For instance, Germany’s Humboldt Research Fellowship [pdf] provides a stipend for dependent family members, and funds language acquisition for non-German researchers and their spouses.

I have invested heavily in my academic career, and Britain has invested in me: I benefited from several degrees at previously subsidised rates of £3,500 a year, not to mention a prestigious Research Council PhD grant. But I don’t feel a sense of duty to “give back” to a country that denies me the right to family life.

Debates about the risks that the net migration policy and hard Brexit pose to academia have tended to focus on restrictions on international students [pdf], and the challenges UK universities will face in retaining and recruiting the best academics and securing collaborative research grants. Yet the potential loss of British academics affected by absurd family reunification rules, or those with EU spouses uncertain after Brexit, has remained largely invisible.

But after following the comments on various academic blogs, I sense that I am not the only one looking for an escape route. Theresa May’s model of Global Britain is anything but, and risks alienating those with personal and professional links to the world beyond this small island. Evidence shows that highly skilled Brits are currently emigrating en masse as salaries and quality of life are so much better elsewhere – and there is no reason to assume that this won’t apply to British academics after Brexit.

 Related

No longer welcome: the EU academics in Britain told to ‘make arrangements to leave’

Brexit exodus: EU academics ‘already pulling out’ of UK universities, MPs warned

Both articles are from the Guardian’s Academics Anonymous, which is the blog series where academics tell it like it is. If you would like to be the next contributor to the anonymous blogpost about the trials, tribulations and frustrations of university life, get in touch here.