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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 November 2007, 10:03 GMT
Black youngsters 'key to Oxford'
Jesse Jackson
While in Oxford Rev Jackson will be made an honorary fellow
The University of Oxford's "integrity" is under threat unless it recruits more black students, US civil rights leader Rev Jesse Jackson has said.

Rev Jackson is in Oxford to launch a campaign to encourage more black students to apply to the university.

Only 1% of students at the university are black, according to its Aspire programme, which aims to discover why so few apply in the first place.

Rev Jackson said the absence of black students was not "natural".

While in Oxford, Rev Jackson will launch the Aspire programme's drive to encourage more black students to apply to the university through mentoring schemes and research.

You cannot have a great university unless you have a significant number of students who are African, Caribbean and Asian
Rev Jesse Jackson

The initiative, run by Regent's Park College, Oxford; Canterbury Christ Church University and the Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI) racial justice team, wants to build the aspirations of black children to consider a university education.

"One of the historical legacies of slavery was to not have access to education and [universities] like Oxford. That was a part of that cultural isolation," Rev Jackson told BBC News.

"But there is now a turn, where it is in the interests of its integrity to recruit and retain and provide infrastructure and an atmosphere that is welcoming.

"That really is the key."

He said the reason why few black students applied to Oxford, as opposed to other higher education establishments across the UK, was rooted in its historical elitist attitude.

Only 151 Oxford applicants last year were black, with 26 of them going on to win a place there, figures show.

The success rate for 31 Caribbean black applicants was 16% - compared with an average of 28% among the total 13,000 undergraduate applications.

'Real world'

"Oxford has different standards and historically has not been sensitive to the needs of people of colour," Rev Jackson said.

"But now as the world changes you look at the Caribbean you look at Africa, you look at Asia - you cannot have a great university unless you have a significant number of students who are African, Caribbean, Asian.

"That is in fact the real world in which we live and to that extent, the absence of black students does not represent something that's natural, it represents something that is abnormal.

"Now we must challenge that, and I'm convinced that if we work diligently we can do just that."

During his visit, Rev Jackson will also be made an honorary fellow of Regent's Park College and will use the occasion to give a public lecture to mark the 200th anniversary of Britain's act to abolish the slave trade, entitled Freedom and Education.

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