Disadvantaged students less likely to receive firsts

This article was originally published as a front-page exclusive in Oxford University’s student newspaper, Cherwell. It can be found here.

Students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to be awarded first class degrees than their peers, Oxford University data has revealed.

The statistics show just 22.9 per cent of undergraduates from underrepresented backgrounds received a First, compared to 30.3 per cent of their course mates.

The figures, obtained by Cherwell via Freedom of Information requests, compare degree classes for flagged and non-flagged students at the university.

Flags are given to undergraduates who meet a number of criteria including living in a deprived postcode, coming from a school which sends few pupils to Oxbridge or having lived in care.

The investigation also found that flagged students are more likely to withdraw from their studies or take longer to complete their course. Only 76.2 per cent of flagged students had completed their degree by the time statistics were obtained by Cherwell, compared to 82.3 per cent of non-flagged students.

The findings, taken from data about undergraduates admitted between 2010 and 2013, mirror the well-established “gender gap” which exists in degree results at the University.

However, these statistics are the first to identify an association between degree outcome and socioeconomic background.

Eden Bailey, OUSU’s Vice-President for Access and Academic Affairs, told Cherwell, “Oxford has a serious problem with attainment gaps. A working group is already well in progress to tackle the gender and race attainment gaps. It’s really important that students have access to educational opportunities regardless of their background, identity, or circumstance.

“I am very conscious that OUSU doesn’t have a liberation campaign relating to class or socioeconomic disadvantage, and would love to hear from students who would be interested in this.”

In response to the findings, a university spokesperson commented “the rates at which students get firsts are affected by many factors, particularly course choice. The university will continue to work to ensure all students are supported in their studies academically, personally and financially.”

The comparatively lower success rate of Oxford students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds is not reflected nationally. A report by the student think-tank OxPolicy into the effect of socioeconomic background on degree outcome found that “at no Higher Education Institution did under-represented students perform worse than their peers”.

Indigo Wilde, a third-year student at Balliol College, told Cherwell that she wasn’t surprised by the statistics. “Socioeconomically disadvantaged students suffer from structural disadvantages which are under-supported on an institutional level at Oxford. [The discrepancy in degree results] reflect the coarse and adverse reality of what it is to be here as one of those disadvantaged students,” she claimed.

The news comes two weeks after St Hilda’s JCR voted to establish a Class Liberation Officer to confront “class discrimination and microaggressions directed at students from a working class background”.

Nina Chatrath, one of the students who proposed the motion, told Cherwell that it was “important that those from socio-economically disadvantaged/working class backgrounds are fairly represented. The officer will run a compulsory workshop during Freshers’ Week informing all students of the issues [working class] students face, and how they can be an ally.”

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