Rev Jesse Jackson hits out at Oxford-Cambridge admissions

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Media captionRev Jesse Jackson spoke at the Oxford Union

The number of poor or black students at the UK's top universities has been criticised by veteran civil rights campaigner Rev Jesse Jackson.

Speaking ahead of an address to the Oxford Union, he expressed concern at admissions to Cambridge and Oxford.

"The absence of blacks diminishes the greatness of these universities," he said.

Oxford insisted the admission of black students was in line with the success rate of all applicants.

Rev Jackson fought for civil rights in the USA, including the right to vote, alongside Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

He was a candidate for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in 1984.

Echoing comments he made on Monday at Cambridge University, he said: "I'm concerned that when 21 colleges at Oxbridge took no black students last year, the students are being cheated of a multi-cultural and multi-racial experience in a world that is multi-cultural and multi-racial.

"One Oxford college has not admitted a single black student in five years.

'World-class university'

"In 2009, of Oxford's 2,653 new undergraduates, just six 'black Caribbean' candidates from the UK - out of 35 who applied - was accepted for study at Oxford.

He called for "positive access" to increase numbers of students from ethnic minorities in top universities.

"It's obvious in pre and early schooling that something is missing. Private schools have a pre-Oxford and pre-Cambridge secondary education. The poor youths don't have that so we must reach deeper to develop the youth in their formative years. It can be corrected," he added.

In a statement, Oxford University said £4.5m a year was spent on outreach work to encourage students from all socio-economic and ethnic-minority backgrounds to apply.

"To remain a world-class university we need to recruit the best students so it is not in our interests to exclude particular groups.

"Rev Jackson criticises Oxford for only admitting six black Caribbean students out of the 35 who applied in 2009, but in fact this success rate is line with the success rate of all applicants to Oxford.

"School attainment is the main barrier to getting more black students to Oxford. In 2009, nearly half of all black students in the UK who received at least three As applied to Oxford compared to 28% of white students with these grades.

"We hope that talented black students, and their parents and teachers, will visit Oxford on one of our Open Days and consider applying to study here," it added.

Cambridge University's prospectus says: "We welcome applications from students of the highest intellectual potential, irrespective of social, racial, religious and financial considerations.

"Our aim is to raise the awareness of academically able (i.e. gifted and talented) UK black and ethnic minority students that studying at Cambridge is achievable."

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