Education and ethnicity at Oxford and Cambridge

Matthew Benjamin, 28, who studied geography at Jesus College, Oxford, said: “I was very aware that I was the only black student in my year at my college. I was never made to feel out of place, but it was certainly something I was conscious of.

“When I arrived and they wanted to do a prospectus, and have some students on the cover, they chose me, and one other Asian guy and another guy from Thailand. It was clear they wanted to project this image of somewhere that was quite diverse. The reality was very different – there were three [minority] ethnic students in a year.

“On open days, some black kids would see me and say ‘you’re the only black person we’ve seen here – is it even worth us applying?'”

Old News by now – but worth noting! -from the Guardian in early December 2010

What initially appears to be a bleak portrait of racial and social exclusion at Oxford and Cambridge seems not to be the case on closer inspection of the statistics.

The Guardian recently reported that official data shows that more than 20 Oxbridge colleges made no offers to black candidates for undergraduate courses last year and one Oxford college has not admitted a single black student in five years. The university’s admissions data confirms that only one black Briton of Caribbean descent was accepted for undergraduate study at Oxford last year.

Initially things appear to be quite bleak –

“Of the black Caribbean students getting straight As at A-level, the vast majority apply to Oxbridge…. those who do choose to apply have a much lower success rate [than white applicants]. One in five in comparison with one in three for white students. That doesn’t seem to have shifted for the last 15 years.”

However, the most selective universities argue that poor attainment at school level narrows the pool from which candidates can be drawn. But black candidates are more likely to apply to elite universities. In 2009, more than 29,000 white students got three As or better at A-level (excluding general studies) and about 28.4% applied to Oxford; while 452 black students got three As or better, and nearly half applied to Oxford.

A spokeswoman for Oxford said: “Black students apply disproportionately for the most oversubscribed subjects, contributing to a lower than average success rate for the group as a whole: 44% of all black applicants apply for Oxford’s three most oversubscribed subjects, compared with just 17% of all white applicants. That means nearly half of black applicants are applying for the same three subjects … the three toughest subjects to get places in. Those subjects are economics and management, medicine, and maths.with 7% of white applicants. This goes a very long way towards explaining the group’s overall lower success rate.”

This is the interesting thing about African Caribbean apsiration in the United Kingdom – despite achieving worse GCSE results as a group compared to white, Indian and Chinese children, African-Caribbean children are actually more likely to stay onto do A levels, and more likely to apply to high end universities than white children – where they then experience discrimination?

Social Class background is a far better predictor of who will do well at school and then go onto university in the UK – despite the fact that our political spin doctors seem to think that class matters – the stats on social mobility suggest that class is pretty entrenched!

What is Social Class?

Some of you might find this useful – my ‘What is Social Class’ handout from 2009. I put this together for the AS unit in Culture and Identity before dodgey standardisation practises (AQA exam board) meant we had to change our option to The Family. Some might argue that the fact that the chief examiner for the AQA writing a text book for commercial gain that only includes the family option, could lead to pressure to mark the other options not included in that text book more harshly. Of course, I wouldn’t suggest this for a minute.

The handout should be useful for anyone wanting to know more about class and class identity.

Culture and Identity – social class worksheet

Who does the housework? Some relatively recent research on the domestic division of labour

Who does the housework and childcare – men or women?

This is a classic question for the AS Family module, below are a few updates of survey data and a few pointers at the end to get some analysis marks in the exam.
Oh and shame on the timeservers who write the main AS level textbooks using all of that hideous dated material from the 1970s – 90s – all of this material is available if you just dig online for an hour.

There is evidence that gender roles in the family continue to move towards greater equality 

• According to the British Social Attitudes survey (2007/8) in 1989, 1/3rd of men and ¼ of women thought that it was “a man’s job to earn money; a woman’s job is to look after the home and family. Only 15 years later, in 2006 only 1/5 men and 1/6 women agreed with the statement.
The Fatherhood Institute certainly thinks there have been major moves to more equal gender roles within the family

• The time spent by British men on domestic work rose from 90 minutes per day in the 1960s to 148 minutes per day by 2004; while women’s dropped from 369 minutes to 280 minutes during the same period (Kan et al, 2009).

• British fathers’ care of infants and young children rose 800% between 1975 and 1997, from 15 minutes to two hours on the average working day – at double the rate of mothers’ (Fisher et al., 1999) despite the fact that over this period fathers’ time spent at work was also increasing (Gray, 2006).
It is worth reading this document that compares survey data on housework (where you ask questions like ‘how many hours per week do you think you spend doing the washing up…) with the more accurate (valid method) of keeping diary data (where you get men and women to actually note down what they do each week) – the authors found that, guess what, men are more likely to over-estimate the amount of housework they do in relation to women.
The document also argues that survey data on ‘who does the childcare’ is an invalid measurement of equality in domestic roles for various reasons.


Evidence that gender roles are not equal yet!

According to the couple connection who summarise data from this – Crompton, R. & Lyonette, C. (2008). Who does the housework? The division of labour within the home. In Park, A. et al., British Social Attitudes: The 24th Report 2007/2008. London: Sage.

• On average, women spend over 2 hours and 30 minutes a day doing housework: cooking, washing up, cleaning and ironing- 1 hour and 30 minutes more than men. Both sexes spend similar lengths of time gardening or looking after pets. DIY and car maintenance are the only household chores that men, in general, spend more time on than women.

• Overall men have an extra half hour of free time each day than women.

• The time spent with children is spent in different ways. Women spend around two hours on housework while with their children, compared with 1 hour and 20 minutes spent by men. In contrast, men spend around 1 hour and 20 minutes watching TV in the company of their children, compared with around 50 minutes by women. In other words, men may be doing a greater amount of childcare in the past – but this translates into watching TV with the kids, while a woman doing childcare translates into doing housework while watching the kids.

Breene and Cook studied surveyed attitudes to traditional gender roles in 22 different European Countries and found there were more. They found that that about 1/4 men (who they called hardliners) would rather get divorced than see their wife in a ‘breadwinner role’ while only 1/8 men would be happy adjusting to their wife being the main breadwinner. (These are very rough estimates from me, and there are wide variations across countries!)

• Finally, one third of the population still think that there are problems with both couples working… In 2006, 41% of men and 29% of women agreed that a pre-school child is likely to suffer if his or her mother works.

SCLY1 AS Sociology of the family

SCLY1  AS Sociology of The Family – Easy to understand breakdown of what we teach

Hi, it’s occured to me that we really don’t cover that much material in this module. Despite the main text books over convoluting a lot of the stuff – I think all that we cover boils down to the following 7 key questions (ok and sub questions)

Topic 1 – Domestic roles.

The General Trend here is that men and women have become more equal in their domestic roles and relationships are generally characterised by more negotiation and discussion (reflexivity)

Key questions –

  • To what extent is this true of modern relationships? Are there contradictory examples if you look at different generations/ social classes and ethnic groups?
  • If you believe this is there is a general trend towards gender equality, what factors have lead to this change and what is the relative importance of each factor?
  • What do the different sociological perspectives say about these

Topic 2 – Marriage, Co-habitation and Divorce

The general trend here is that there has been a long term decline in the rate of Marriage and a corresponding increase in cohabitation. The divorce rate has increased overall – especially rapidly after the 1969 divorce act, although it has been declining since 2006.

Key Questions

  • What are the reasons for these changes, and what is the relative importance of each.
  • What are the consequences of these changes (relates to topic 3)
  • What do different sociological perspectives think about the decline in marriage and increase in divorce?

Topic 3 – The decline of the traditional Nuclear Family and increasing in diversity in families and households –

The general trend here is that there families and households are characterised by more diversity in the following ways –

  • There are more reconstituted families (step families)
  • There are more single parent families
  • There are more single person households
  • There are more visible and legally recognised same sex relationships
  • There is greater ethnic diversity
  • There is greater generational diversity (as people live longer)

Key Questions

  • What are the reasons for these changes, and what is the relative importance of each reason for each change (relates to topic 2!)
  • What are the consequences of these changes
  • What do different sociological perspectives think about the decline in marriage and increase in divorce?

Topic 4 – perspectives on the extended and nuclear family in historical context

The general trend is that European societies use to have more extended families, however, with industrialisation; the nuclear family came to be the dominant family form. However, since the 1970s, the nuclear family appears to be in decline.

Key questions/ perspectives

  • Assess the Functionalist/ Marxist/ Feminist/ Postmodernist/ Late Modernist view on the role and functions of the nuclear family in society.

Topic 5 – Childhood.

The general trend here is that family life and society in general has become more child centred, and children’s lives are more regulated, although some would argue that childhood is now disappearing.

Key questions

  • Examine the ways in which childhood is socially constructed
  • Assess the view that children are better off today than in the past, now that their lives are more regulated by adults.
  • Assess the view that childhood is disappearing.

Topic 6. Demography

The general trend is that birth and death rates have both decreased and net migration to the UK has increased steadily in recent years.

Key questions

  • Why are the birth and death rates decreasing?
  • What are the causes and consequences of immigration/ emigration?

Topic 7. The family and social policy

Here we examine different perspectives on how the government should influence family life through policy

Key questions

  • Examine the relationship between social policy and any of the following – gender equality in the family, the role of children in the family, marriage/ divorce, family diversity, the place of children in the family.
  • Examine different sociological perspectives on social policy.

See this site for revision aids

Democracy in the UK – Not!

Pamela Nash - time to tweet, but not time to ask questions in Parliament?
Pamela Nash - time to tweet, but not time to ask questions in Parliament?

According to latest Private Eye – Pamela Nash, Britain’s youngest MP at 26, has only put forward one written question to parliament in the last sixth months, and spoken only six times. The Eye points out, however, that she has plenty of time to Tweet about the X factor and Corination Street.

Her predecesser in her constituency was John Reid – former Labour home secreteary – she used to be his parliamentary researcher – and when he stepped down last year, labour party members were only allowed to choose his successor from a short list of women only candidates, one of whome was Pam, meaning the local party couldn’t select the person they wanted.

So we’ve ended up with this wet twitterer instead of someone who maybe would have spent time being just a little more active in Parliament?

Or perhaps she thinks her inane twitterings make her more accessible to the public –

one of her latest – ‘go get a sledge! You’ll feel ten again and Christmassy in five mins x’


Agenda Setting round up

Some recent examples of agenda setting in the news – both taken from Private Eye –

Firstly, on December 15th, the BBC devoted 3 minutes of air time to promoting its remake of ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ – more important than providing more detailed analysis of other events that day?

Secondly – you may remember way back in 2008 – the Sun expressed a lot of moral outrage criticising Jonathan Ross and Russel Brand for being ‘loud mouth’ twitts when they they made a late night abusive phone call to Andrew Sachs. This week, however, they didn’t mention at all Frankie Boyle’s sick jokes about Jordan’s disabled son – perhaps because he doesn’t work for the BBC and perhaps because he writes for the Sun?

End of term Christmas Movie – might’ve been Fight Club

Definately one of the most ‘sociological movies’ of all time – fighting for the boys, Brad Pitt for the girls, and Meatloaf for us all! Perfect for the end of term. A quote from the movie…

“God dammit, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables, slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit that we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history man, no purpose, no place, we have no great new war, no great depression, our great war’s a spiritual war, our great depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’ll be millionnaires and movie gods and rock stars, but we wont’t.. and we’re slowly learning that fact, and we’re very, very pissed off.”

Private Finance Initiatives

Private Finance Initiatives involve private companies providing services for government departments for a profit. They were first introduced by John Major, expanded massively under New Labour and they remain popular with the current government.

The theory behind PFIs is that it should enable the government to provide services for less money – the theory is that private companies will try to undercut eachother in competitive bidding  for government contracts and then attempt to deliver services efficiently in order to maximise their profits – public service delivery should be cheaper than the government employing workers directly.

Private Finance Initiatives do not, however, always work in the public’s interest – there are many many examples of Private Companies providing a poor level of public services to the public while raking in huge profits for themselves. PFIs end up benefitting the (often very large) Corporations that run them, while the general public loses out.

This telegraph article tells of how a PFI contract that the Treasury signed with a company to decorate its offices forbade them to treasury to purchase a cheap Christmas Tree – the treasury had to go through the company – which provided one for 875 pounds.

PFIs are becoming increasingly common – many schools and hospitals are tied into 20 year contracts with firms to provide the upkeep and maintainence of buildings and will be paying over 200 billion pounds for just 60 billion worth of services over the next two decades. This basically means that the tax payer is paying out hundreds of billions to line the pockets of the bosses who run these health care companies.

To give a specific example (from the article)

Jesse Norman, the Tory MP for Hereford, recently told how his local hospital was charged £963 to install a TV aerial. Other public bodies have been billed hundreds of pounds simply to change light bulbs. Since they don’t own the buildings, they are over a barrel. Maintenance charges can be colossal, and simple improvements, such as putting up a shelf, can lead to a bureaucratic rigmarole requiring weeks of consultations and “risk assessment”.

The UK’s best-paid jobs

The findings of the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (Ashe) were released last week. The gross median* full-time salary in the UK for the year ending April 2010 was £25,879, but there is obviously considerable variation across careers.

Heads of major organisations and doctors come out on top while waiters and bar staff come bottom. Oh, and train drivers earn more than teachers…

A nice summary of the findings can be found in the Guardian, while a fuller version is here.

Limitations of the data include

1. The self-employed are not included.

2. Although the survey covers hundreds of careers, non-standard careers are not included (thus we miss out on the celebrity earnings – although you can find out who the biggest earners are from the Times rich list)

3. It doesn’t include bonuses – which explains why city worker’s salaries are so low…

(*The median is the point at which there are as many people earning less than the quoted figures as there are earning more.)

Do they know it’s Christmas…?

No doubt you will have to suffer through this classic song by band aid again this Christmas. 


While in sufferance, you may as well do the following –  

1. Try to find at least four misreprentations of ‘Africa’ in the song.

 2. Think about whether you agree with Chumbawamba’s reasons behind releasing  ‘Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records’ 1986 – (see picture right)

31897Chumbawamba argued that the orginal band aid record was primarily a cosmetic spectacle designed to draw attention away from the real political causes of world hunger – causes such as the developing world charging excessively high interest on loans made to African countries as well as subsidising their own agriculture within the European Union, thus making exports into the Union relatively more expensive.

3. Read this New Internationalist article which considers the extent to which Bob Geldoff has gained financially from the whole Band Aid – Live 8 business.

Finally, and most crudely, you might like to consider whether you agree with Morrissey,  talking about the first Do They Know It’s Christmas?: ‘I’m not afraid to say that I think Band Aid was diabolical. Or to say that I think Bob Geldof is a nauseating character. Many people find that very unsettling, but I’ll say it as loud as anyone wants me to. In the first instance the record itself was absolutely tuneless. One can have great concern for the people of Ethiopia, but it’s another thing to inflict daily torture on the people of England. It was an awful record considering the mass of talent involved. And it wasn’t done shyly it was the most self-righteous platform ever in the history of popular music.’

Finally, a song worth listening to by Chumbawamba – How to get your band on Television – lyrics here