An article on the front page of the Times today tells a story of an unexpectedly rich university professor who proposed to donate a million pounds to two colleges to provide scholarships for white boys from poor families.
The key word here is white. (Not sure whether "boys" is significant.) The professor reasoned that since there already exist scholarships specifically for black kids, then why shouldn't there also be scholarships for whites?
Which, for a layperson like me, who is continually mildly nauseated by all those efforts focused exclusively on specific disadvantaged groups, makes nothing but sick sense. But the colleges, after some deliberation with their lawyers, refused.
Race row as £1m gift is snubbed by elite schools
Two leading private schools have rejected scholarships of more than £1 million for poor white boys from a philanthropist for fear of breaching anti-discrimination laws.
Dulwich College and Winchester College turned down an offer from Professor Sir Bryan Thwaites, 96, to leave the funds in his will.
Sir Bryan, who attended both schools on scholarships, wanted white British boys from disadvantaged homes to benefit because they did worse at school than almost every other ethnic group. Studies have shown that they perform relatively poorly in exams and are less likely than their peers to attend university.
Stormzy, the rap star, established Cambridge University scholarships exclusively for black British students. The refusal of leading boys’ schools to allow financial help exclusively for white pupils has prompted a row about equality laws.
Sir Bryan said: “If Cambridge University can accept a much larger donation in support of black students, why cannot I do the same for underprivileged white British? Winchester said it would harm its reputation by accepting my bequest, but in my opinion it would gain enormously by being seen to address what is the severe national problem of the underperforming white cohort in schools.”
Trevor Phillips, former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said that well-known schools had turned down more than £1 million of financial help for white boys in recent months. He blamed a “lethal cocktail of inverted snobbery, racial victimhood and liberal guilt” for the reluctance to help white boys, whom he described as “today’s educational left-behinds”.
He said: “I doubt that I’ll ever work out why the British appear untroubled that so many of their children emerge from over a decade of expensive, compulsory education with scarcely more in the way of literacy and numeracy than the average Neanderthal.”
Writing in the online magazine Standpoint, he continued: “On half a dozen occasions over the past five years I’ve been asked to advise on whether it is acceptable to offer bursaries or scholarships to one minority group or another. Invariably, I have said yes; but donors remain nervous, and beneficiary institutions are routinely discouraged by their lawyers.
“I have no idea how many such generous offers have been turned down, but I do know that in recent months two well-known fee-paying schools have lost bequests totalling over £1 million that might have supported some of our most disadvantaged children for one reason: the donor, like Stormzy, wants his money to go to people of his own background — poor but talented white British boys.” Mr Phillips said that such a proposal was not racist and that the Equality Act of 2010 was not called the “Be Kind to Blacks Act”, adding: “In circumstances where the racial group that is disadvantaged is white, there should be no bar to doing for them exactly what we would do for so-called black and minority ethnic groups.”
Sir Bryan was principal of Westfield College, part of the University of London, for 17 years. He planned to bequeath £400,000 to Dulwich College in south London and £800,000 to Winchester College in Hampshire.
He attended Dulwich until the outbreak of the Second World War, when he was sent to Winchester. Scholarships paid for him to attend both institutions. He has long supported both schools and taught at Winchester, where he founded the School Mathematics Project that reached 80 per cent of schools by the early 1970s. Both schools are understood to have consulted widely with lawyers, trustees and charity experts before declining the bequest.
Under the Equality Act positive discrimination, where someone is given preferential treatment because they have a specific characteristic, is generally unlawful. However “positive action” is permitted for efforts aimed at encouraging someone to overcome a disadvantage attributed to their race or other protected characteristic.
A spokesman for Winchester College said: “Acceptance of a bequest of this nature would neither be in the interests of the school as a charity nor the interests of those it aims to support through its work. Notwithstanding legal exceptions to the relevant legislation, the school does not see how discrimination on grounds of a boy’s colour could ever be compatible with its values.”
A spokesman for Dulwich College said: “The community at Dulwich is proudly diverse, both socio-economically and ethnically, reflecting our location. Bursaries are an engine of social mobility and they should be available to all who pass our entrance examinations, irrespective of their background.”
How ‘positive action’ works The protected characteristics that enable “positive action” under the Equality Act 2010 are: age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation (Billy Kenber writes). A school or university offering a scholarship or bursary for a particular group of students must be able to demonstrate that the group being helped suffers a disadvantage because of their protected characteristic. These scholarships are lawful as long as they are also a proportionate means of overturning the disadvantage.