Leader: US race ruling welcome in quest for equality

June 27, 2003

Not for a quarter of a century has the higher education world awaited a Supreme Court judgment so keenly. If, as many expected, Monday's vote had gone against the University of Michigan's right to take account of race in its admissions policies, the knock-on effects would have been felt across the US and would also have been used in parallel debates in Britain.

For race in America, read class and all types of minority on this side of the Atlantic. The reprieve may be short-lived, but it is nonetheless welcome.

By allowing race to remain a factor in university admissions but insisting that "each applicant is evaluated as an individual", the judges may appear to be having it both ways, but the principle is an important one that all universities should respect. Michigan's system of awarding extra points to applicants from some ethnic minorities is not unlike the practice of some UK universities in relation to candidates from deprived backgrounds and poor schools. This might trigger a closer look at a candidate with relatively low A-level grades, but fairness should preclude a mechanistic uplift.

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