The minister of state for higher education has called for more black school pupils to continue their education at university.
At an Oxford University conference on Monday 27 October 2008 David Lammy told his audience that the number of black students from the Caribbean has been the same for three years, at around just over one per cent, and that the UK still had more work to do to change this.
Mr Lammy, who was the first black Briton to study for a masters’ Degree in Law at Harvard, urged that we do not grow complacent about the progress of black people: “In this country people like me are still the exception rather than the rule. And the same is even still true in the USA, where a black man could be elected President in a few days' time”. This particular point has even more significance given last week's election result.
In a speech in 2004, on a similar theme, the MP for Tottenham called on schools to introduce the idea of a university education to pupils earlier on and this theme is still prevalent in his thought today.
He said: “If we wait until kids are 18 before we try to convince them that, with talent and hard work, they can aspire to go to any institution that suits their needs, then we leave it far too late.”
According to UCAS, in 2003 just 4.2 per cent of university applicants were black, though this had risen to 5.8 per cent in 2007.
David Lammy confirmed that progress is being made, stating that while less than a third of black Caribbean pupils were awarded five or more A-C level GCSEs in 2002, this rose to almost half in 2007 adding: “Last year, the number of black and mixed-parentage entrants to Oxford was over 20 per cent up on 2006. That's progress.”
But Mr Lammy also made the point that more work has yet to be done to "redress the legacy of inequality with which we currently live" adding: “Because let's be honest about it, because we are not yet living in a society where everyone has an equal chance."
One day after Gordon Brown became Prime Minister in June 2007 he radically altered the make up of Whitehall. The department for education and skills was broken into two. The department for children, schools and families and the department for innovations, universities and skills (DIUS) were established. The MP for Southampton Itchen John Denham took charge of the latter.
Now secretary of state for the branch Mr Denham is assisted by four other politicians the most important is David Lammy the MP for Tottenham who is in responsible for Higher Education and Intellectual property.
The birth of the new department could well lead to confusion about who has power over universities and, of course, who makes the final policy decisions. So is it the erudite Mr Lammy, who read law at Harvard, or is it head of the department and staunch anti-Iraq war Mr Denham who calls the shots?
In recent weeks both have made important speeches about the future of universities throughout the country. Mr Lammy, talking at an Oxford University conference, called for more black students whilst the new cabinet minister Mr Denham explained his planned student grant cuts for 2009.
On the front of it Mr Denham is the man in control of policy. He heads the department, attends meetings of the cabinet and makes the last decision on all policy. But Mr Lammy's role is not to be undermined as he plays a pivotal part in advising Mr Denham on all things university related.
For discerning students who may wish to raise concerns with an aspect of government policy it is important to know who to write to. In this regard, Mr Lammy is the best person to contact via the DIUS website. The two work closely together before setting or changing any policies and making any announcements.
The Brown-implemented Whitehall reforms have had an incongruous effect on public understanding in so far as they have confused more than informed. Having said that, the aim to put more focus on universities can only be a good thing and the benefits may become apparent once the department finds its feet.