Still the best, still too exclusive

first_imgOxford, however, released a statement in response to this suggestion stating, “The [HEPI] report’s implication that the University should engage in positive discrimination to adjust its social mix is not something we intend to act on,” and adding that it remained committed to its “purely meritocratic selection process, admitting only those students with the very best ability and potential, from whichever background they come”. The OUSU representative for Access, Jonny Medland, agreed that positive discrimination is not the way forward, and the University should concentrate more on outreach activity. For entry in 2010 there has been a significant rise in state school applications, with 1,110 more applying than last year. Of the UK students that have applied, 63.6% are from state schools and 36.4% from independent schools.Furthermore, Oxford already has a system in place looking at applicants’ “contextual data,” though a spokesman stated that “we are only interested in using such data where it is shown to identify true ability.”The University’s policy as of 2008 is to place a ‘flag’ by applicants who live in a postcode area identified nationally as ‘deprived’, go to a school whose overall GCSE and/or A-level results are lower than the national average, are in care, or who have participated in a specific Oxford University outreach scheme targeted at groups who are under-represented in higher education.If an applicant receives three flags, is predicted three As at A-level, and is in the top 80% in any pre-interview aptitude tests, they are strongly recommended for invitation to interview. In last year’s selection process, 438 applicants were flagged in enough areas, of whom 284 were predicted three As and came in the top 80% of their written tests. These students were interviewed and 63 gained places.While the HEPI report admitted that Oxford and Cambridge did not openly show favour towards independent school pupils or those from wealthy backgrounds, it nevertheless claimed that the universities “fall short of an explicit aim to achieve a better social balance in their student populations.” However, the report conceded that the disparity may have more to do with faults in the British education system than discrimination by the universities. An Oxford spokesperson said, “We welcome the report’s clear confirmation that ‘there is no evidence’ that we are ‘socially discriminatory’ in our admissions.Achieving a diverse student body at the best universities is something we cannot do alone. At Oxford we spend well over £5m a year on bursaries, nearly £3m a year on outreach, and last year ran 1,500 separate outreach events – but the challenge of social mobility must involve schools and indeed the whole of society.” A report released last week entitled “Oxford and Cambridge: How Different Are They?” has praised Oxford’s academic prowess, but criticised its access record.The report, conducted by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), concluded that the two universities merited their reputation as the best in the country.The HEPI research found that while some other universities share Oxbridge’s reputation for being ‘elite’, they “really are different from other universities in the sector, including the small number of institutions with which they are sometimes compared.”The report states that Oxford students are “exceptionally talented”, and that the resources available to them are the best and most extensive in the UK. They are less likely to drop out of their courses and more likely to receive a high-class degree. Students were also said to be happier with their standard of teaching, and found to spend 30 per cent more time studying than those at other Russell Group universities.However the HEPI also criticised the apparent lack of diversity at Oxbridge, claiming that it was “vulnerable to the charge of social elitism.”In 2006 Oxford took in 42 per cent of students from independent schools, while only 7 per cent are educated this way. At Imperial College London 38 per cent were from independent schools, with 34 per cent at UCL.Bahram Bekhradnia, the director of HEPI admitted, “There is some evidence to suggest that Oxford and Cambridge admit more independent school pupils than is warranted by their subsequent achievement.”Some students reacted against this criticism. One said, “They can’t praise Oxford for being one of the best universities and then in the next breath start telling it to change the way it does things – that’s utterly ridiculous.”Bekhradnia went on to suggest that Oxbridge should consider adopting the American approach to university admissions, “There seems no reason why Oxford and Cambridge should not take a leaf out of the book of some of the great American universities which are explicit that they aim to achieve the best social and ethnic mix they can while always insisting on the highest academic standards.”last_img

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