Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Generation Snowflake Gets The Wrong End Of The Stick Again

Let me introduce you to a terribly thought out article in The Guardian by Afua Hirsch, where she tells us how 'alienating and elitist' she finds Oxford and Cambridge Universities because they contain too many white students.

Like Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Salma Yaqoob, Mehdi Hasan and Diane Abbott, Afua Hirsch is one of the leading figures in cry-baby politics: a group of half-witted snowflakes who craft a public profile out of looking for things to take offence to, even when, as you'll see below, there is nothing offensive happening at all. 

Because of which, they almost never arrive at the (correct) conclusion that the problem is they haven't thought their arguments through adequately, and instead arrive at the (incorrect) conclusion that the reason so many people are against them is because of their skin colour, religion or ethnicity. The result of this is that all kinds of people and institutions frequently face unfair slurs due to intellectually sub-standard criticisms.

Anyway, personalities aside, let's be generous and just focus on the intellectual weight of Afua Hirsch's argument in the article: that the reason there are so few BME (black minority ethnic) students at Oxford or Cambridge is because those two universities are so horribly 'alienating and elitist'.

Even if we grant Afua Hirsch the so-called fact of Oxford and Cambridge being under-represented by BME students, it's easy to see that it is not to do with institutional racism at our top universities, it is to do with the fact that prospective BME candidates are far outnumbered by white British candidates, which has a lot of complex causes - but none of them are the fault of Oxford or Cambridge.

It is quite easy to be outraged at statistics if you don't understand them, and clearly Ms Hirsch misses the most important statistic in all of this: that there are simply not enough BME people in the country to fulfil her wish. A quick Google search reveals to me that if a top university accepted students in a way that precisely represented the UK demographic, then for every 100 people, there would be 87 whites, 7 Asians, 3 blacks and 3 others. Even on strict egalitarian grounds it is very difficult to justify a selection policy that doesn't see BME people vastly outnumbered by whites.

But, of course, that's only part of the flaw in her reasoning - the other thing wrong with her misunderstanding of statistics is that Oxford and Cambridge are not looking for a representation in terms of ethnicity or skin colour; they are looking for representation in terms of academic ability. The only way they are 'alienating and elitist' is by wanting the best and brightest students.

Cambridge and Oxford universities are the seat of academic excellence in the UK - and if the statistics show that only a small proportion of BME people get into Oxford or Cambridge, and a large majority of students are white, that does not show any institutional unfairness on the part of Oxford or Cambridge. It simply shows that if Oxford and Cambridge are trying to attract the most academically gifted students in the country, and if by far the greatest proportion of the most academically gifted students in the country are not in the BME demographic, then Cambridge and Oxford's admission policy is completely fair.

There is certainly a conversation to be had about all the ways that BME and under-privileged pupils in schools are disadvantaged or coming up against barriers to fulfilling their potential, but that's not an indictment against our two best universities.

The same principle is true when talking about pupils who are not privately educated - they are also not being unfairly discriminated against. The statistics show that only 10% of UK pupils are privately educated yet around 50% of Cambridge and Oxford graduates come from private education. Once again, people who think this exhibits unfairness are confused about what fairness is.

A scholastic system is fair if results match ability, hard work and diligence. Therefore, if Cambridge and Oxford are trying to attract the most academically gifted students in the country, and if 50% of the most academically gifted students in the country are in private schools, then Cambridge and Oxford's admission policy is completely fair on this matter too.
Afua Hirsch's article is a crassly distorted attempt to stir up ill-feeling when none need exist. By failing to understand statistics she has not grasped that Oxford and Cambridge Universities aim to admit the most academically talented students - and that therefore, the fair percentage of BME admissions depends on what proportion of the UK's most academically talented students are BME students.
If it is the number that is currently studying at Oxford and Cambridge then those admissions have the right ratio of BME students. Otherwise, what Afua Hirsch is asking us to believe is that Oxford and Cambridge Universities are deliberately disadvantaging themselves in the academic results tables by discriminating against brighter but unselected BME students. There is no madness to which our nation's leading snowflakes won't subject us if it gives them a chance to play the victim game and divest these topics of rational enquiry and sensible reasoning.