A CAMBRIDGE University lecturer and builder’s son who grew up in Blackburn is urging more youngsters from ethnic minorities to aim high.
Dr Oke Odudu was born in Blackburn, the second of eight children to British-Nigerian parents, and attended St Anne’s Primary School and St Bede’s RC High School before taking A levels at St Mary’s College.
His potential was spotted by tutors, and with their encouragement he applied to Cambridge to study law.
He got a place at Sidney Sussex College and after his degree went to do a PhD at Oxford University, before taking a research post at Harvard and taught at King’s College London, before returning to Cambridge.
Today he is a specialist on cartel law and lectures on European law and is a Fellow of Emmanuel College, one of the oldest colleges at the university.
His job involves teaching some of the country’s brightest young people as well as research.
But he said he is concerned that although the number of ethnic minority applicants to Cambridge has risen in recent years, significant numbers of young black and Asian students are missing out on an education at a top university.
Around 16 per cent of Cambridge students are from ethnic minority backgrounds.
Oke, whose parents and some siblings still live in Blackburn, said: “If I can make a difference, it is by standing up and saying what I did, you too can achieve if you focus and go for it. I urge pupils not to think of places like Cambridge as out of reach or not for someone like them.”
He frequently appears as guest speaker at events at Cambridge and out in schools, to raise pupils’ aspirations.
“There's a tendency for pupils from schools and backgrounds without a strong history of Cambridge applications to think you have to be a genius to get a place, which is not the case,” he said.
Whenever he speaks to ethnic minority school pupils and their teachers, Oke is asked about fitting in – specifically within the largely white and middle class environment of a leading institution – but he said: “The atmosphere of the university is tolerant and the student population is extremely diverse. I never encountered any discrimination. It’s a place where, if you are judged, it’s going to be on the basis of academic performance, not your background.”