The Guardian is usually better than this. It advances neither the cause of improving the country's education system nor that of investigative journalism to publish David Lammy's data-mining exercise, in which he put forward his transparent anti-Oxbridge agenda by picking out a handful of superficially unflattering data points from the admissions statistics he apparently had to fight tooth and nail to get.
Read the article, since I am going to rebut it. As to his first point, that he had to jump through FOI hoops, those statistics are not hidden or even hard to find. They're published on the Oxford University website. They are, so to speak, just lying around. It is shoddy and sensationalist reporting to invent a conspiracy to hide information that has been published openly and in plain view.
The scary "Oxford admits one black student" headline simply doesn't wash, and playing with the law of small numbers to show that some individual colleges didn't admit any black students is plain statistical illiteracy. There are 38 Oxford colleges. If the 221 "black Caribbean", "black African" and "black other" Oxford applicants had achieved the university's average acceptance rate of 26% there would still have been only 58 to go around. As it stands 25 achieved a place; even spread evenly throughout the colleges, this would have left 13 without a black student.
It is very easy to attack Oxbridge for being elitist, because it is elitist. The whole point of a meritocracy is to admit only the best. If politicians are concerned about the level of admissions amongst applicants who have gone to state schools, or from outside the south-east, or even from specific ethnic backgrounds, the solution is not to force Oxbridge to indulge in some fatuous social engineering experiment but to provide all of the children of this country with an education that would fit them for higher education. That the government fails to provide such an education in state schools, in the North of England and to ethnic minorities is an utter disgrace; but it is not a disgrace that can be fairly laid at Oxbridge's doors.
Update2: I recommend all readers take a look at the Royal Stats Society publication Significance, where Michael Wallace has analysed the college-level variation between black and white admissions and found it to be well within the expected range, the most interesting and important finding so far in this debate.
Update1: a response from David Lammy which I received by email and republish here with his consent. It appears unedited and without comment (although some of the formatting may have been lost in the transfer from email to blog, which is my own fault); I will be writing a follow-up post shortly.
"Have seen your blog, and wanted to reply to clarify a few things:
(1) Getting the data was a struggle – The information that the Guardian uses is not available on the Oxford or Cambridge websites, although the figure of 1 Black Caribbean student admitted to Oxford is, and it is seeing that figure that prompted further investigation into individual colleges.
(Disclosure: I studied at Brasenose College, Oxford from 1994-1997) (yes, the same one as David Cameron, but not at the same time and I've never met him)
(Picture from Ron Hann on Geograph)