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BAME Students at Elite Universities: How Will Brexit Impact Them?

Written by
Emily Hedgley, Immigration Advice Service
Date of Publication:
05 August 2019

The Brexit vote that will eventually remove the United Kingdom from the European Union has raised many political questions, with British national identity being a dominant theme. Patrick Cockburn suggests "that Britain has become a more racist country since the Brexit referendum" He goes on to support this by showing a poll by Opinium, which states that "71% of people from ethnic minorities now report racial discrimination, compared with just over half (58%) before the EU vote." It is relevant to assess the impact that this will have upon Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students at our most prestigious universities, who are already the victims of discriminatory admissions processes and incidents of prejudice.

It is clear that discrimination and hate crime have risen in the United Kingdom since Brexit. However, BAME students are already at a considerable disadvantage when applying to our elite universities, none more so than 'Oxbridge'. This is perhaps unsurprising, given that both Oxford and Cambridge Universities are still strongly associated with notions of white privilege, private schooling and economic elitism. The disadvantage suffered by this community is demonstrated by the statistics. Information released by UCAS shows that, in 2016, only 35 black students were admitted to Oxford, in comparison with 2180 white students. Additionally, there are frequent reports of racism suffered by BAME students at Oxbridge. Kalifa Damani, a PhD student at Cambridge, told Business Insider that she was ignored whilst trying to take to people. Such stories serve to deter BAME students from applying.

It is important to note that the difficulties faced by BAME students do not start at university; academic success in general is harder for students from disadvantaged backgrounds and communities. These difficulties can be economic- 75% of the BAME population live in 88 of the UK's most disadvantaged areas- and studies have found that BAME students have a harder time at secondary school with lower GCSE and A Level results. Only 2% of black students receive 3 A-levels in total; a far cry from the minimum 3 As needed for Oxbridge entry.

A study into the impact of Brexit on BAME communities by Race on the Agenda suggests that Brexit will be hugely negative for BAME communities and that they will be socioeconomically worse off than their white counterparts. Such studies are particularly worrying for BAME students, as we can clearly see from the UCAS information that there is already a considerable deficit of BAME students at the UK's elite universities. Research from the Independent Commission on Social Mobility has found that there are more young black men in prison that there are studying at Russell Group universities. This situation will only change when our top academic institutions work tirelessly to ensure that race and class do not hinder one's ability to flourish academically.

Some of the tension and difficulties triggered by Brexit have stemmed from the issues concerning immigration, and what this will mean for EU Nationals living in the UK now. Currently, EU Nationals can apply under the EU Settlement Scheme. This means they will get leave to remain in the UK permanently if they are eligible for Settled Status, or up to 5 years if they are eligible for Pre-Settled Status. The immigration rights of EU nationals will not change until 30th June 2021 if the UK leaves the European Union with a deal, or 31st December 2020 if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal. The Government have stated that we should be leaving the EU on Thursday 31st October 2019. However, it is not yet known if this will be with or without a deal. As a result, the likelihood is that EU students will have to apply for a Tier 4 Student Visa.

This will result in a dramatic fall in the numbers of EU students attending universities in the UK, as a result of both the visa process and the increase in tuition fees. Therefore, it is important to assess how this could affect BAME students studying or aiming to study at certain universities in the UK. There has been a 41% increase in hate crimes since the referendum, and figures such as this suggest that the suffering of BAME students is likely to intensify. It is plausible to suggest that such a spike in racial hostility will lead to BAME students may facing even more racism and discrimination at universities such as Oxford and Cambridge.

Young people between the ages of 18-24 largely voted remain in the 2016 referendum. This result shows that the younger generation were worried about what the impact would be if the UK divorces itself from the the EU. Concerns such as economic downturn, house prices in major cities, fewer job opportunities and the rise in transport costs are just some of the concerns Brexit has stirred in the younger generation. Henry Saker-Clark at The Guardian states that "Researchers at the Centre for European Reform (CER) note that if unemployment were to rise, it would be the under 30s who would be most vulnerable."

These concerns are also extremely important for the young members of the BAME community. When reading alarming figures surrounding university admissions and increasing hate crime, it is hard to see the positive side of Brexit for BAME students. We have already examined the problems the younger generation will face once Brexit truly takes effect. The reduction in the amount of EU students at elite universities will lead to even greater levels of mono-ethnicity, thus making it harder for BAME students to thrive. It seems from figures, studies and opinions that Brexit will do nothing but negatively impact the BAME student community. It is therefore extremely important that universities and the education system rethink their attitudes towards BAME students, and make sure that every student still has the best possible chances of a great education, regardless of their background.