In December 2019, Oxford University announced the launch of a scholarship for disadvantaged black student. This article offers an in-depth look at the scholarship and why initiatives like this are vital in promoting diversity and inclusion at learning institutions and workplaces across the country.
The Arlan Hamilton and Earline Butler Sims Scholarship
The Oxford University scholarship, which will be offered starting in 2020, will run for three years. Successful applicants will have their university fees and living costs fully paid for the three-year duration of their undergraduate studies.
Oxford University published statistics in June 2019 revealing that it delivered the highest proportion of undergraduate places to ethnic minority students in its history. Representatives reported that 18% of Oxford students are considered ethnic minorities, and 61% having been educated at state schools.
The Arlan Hamilton and Earline Butler Sims Scholarship is being funded by American entrepreneur Arlan Hamilton, who created the Backstage Capital Fund, an organization that provides funding for new start-ups founded by individuals from underrepresented groups. The scholarship is also named after Earline Butler Sims, Arlan Hamilton’s mother.
Arlan Hamilton explained to reporters that the initiative mirrors a similar program that she is funding in the United States in order to encourage more black students to pursue a university education. She set up the scholarship to provide people from disadvantaged backgrounds with opportunities that they may not otherwise find.
Arlan Hamilton told the BBC that she wants to provide talented black students with the opportunity to be nurtured and to focus on themselves; to obtain an education instead of worrying about how they will pay the rent; and to concentrate on aspects that will drive them forward and give them life.
Scholarship candidates must be of black Caribbean, African, or of mixed-race heritage in order to qualify for a scholarship. Each student will also receive an internship grant designed to improve their employment prospects.
The pro-vice-chancellor for education at Oxford University, professor Martin Williams, emphasized the university’s commitment to ensuring that all academically talented students have a fair chance of obtaining a place at Oxford, irrespective of their ethnicity.
Moreover, Arlan Hamilton explained that as she was shown around the Oxford University campus, she thought about the university’s history and what a wonderful learning opportunity it represented. Ms. Hamilton added that although she saw some black students on the campus, it was not as many as she would have liked to have seen. By the end of the 45-minute tour, she had already made up her mind to focus on inclusion and expand access for all students by creating the scholarship.
Arlan Hamilton plans to donate more than $260,000 in funding toward the initiative. She explained that while she understands there will be a lot of competition for the scholarships, she wants to ensure that truly deserving students have an opportunity to study at Oxford. Ms. Hamilton told reporters that she is looking forward to meeting the first scholarship recipient.
The initiative comes in the wake of a similar scholarship funding program, this time implemented by the British musician Stormzy to enable black students to attend Cambridge University. The initiatives indicate that Britain’s elite universities are open to allowing private donors to sponsor students and widening access to two of the UK’s most prestigious learning institutions to students from underrepresented groups.
Why are scholarship programs like this so important?
In 2017, 1.9% of the students who were admitted to Oxford University were black, according to the institution’s figures. At the same time, 3% of people of all ages in England identify as black.
Oxford University is a member of the Russell Group, which is comprised of 24 of the UK’s most prestigious, “research-intensive” universities, considered to be the country’s most elite learning institutions. Russell Group universities have a smaller proportion of black students than other learning institutions. At Belfast’s Queen’s University, less than 1% of the students are black, while at London’s Queen Mary University, the figure is around 10%.
At non-Russell Group universities, large variations in black representation are also seen, ranging from between 0% to 38%.
At British universities overall, minority students of all backgrounds are statistically overrepresented in higher education, with black students accounting for approximately 8% of the country’s university population.
Approximately 25% of Britain’s BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) community believe that diversity in higher education could be improved by implementing “name-blind” university applications. Approximately 64% of BAME Britons agree that more effort is required to increase applications from students from minority groups, according to a report published by The Independent newspaper.
In recent years, both Cambridge University and Oxford University have been criticized for a lack of diversity. Oxford’s vice-chancellor told The Independent that the institution’s admittance rate reflected “deep inequalities” in British society in an interview with the newspaper in June 2019. With less than 50% of people from ethnic minorities feeling that higher education is accessible to them, initiatives such as the Arlan Hamilton and Earline Butler Sims Scholarship are critical to increasing inclusivity and diversity in British higher education.