Oxbridge fails disadvantaged pupils

Tamara Young 15 November 2007

Top UK universities are still biased against students from non-traditional backgrounds, a cabinet minister has said.

Universities Secretary John Denham’s latest outburst comes just days after the Oxbridge admissions process was defended by Professor Alan Ryan, Master of New College Oxford. Ryan claimed that Oxbridge seeks out “just about every plausible student” and pointed out that these institutions pour money into access schemes.

But Denham has accused Oxbridge of failing to reach out to talented young people.

“No one could seriously argue that the current social bias across higher education and in individual institutions – including some of the most sought after – reflects a system that reaches all our most talented young people,” he wrote in the Times Higher Education Supplement.

He acknowledged that universities cannot offer places to those who are not sufficiently qualified.

But he argued that despite the UK having one of the best higher education systems in the world, it is not reaching all the talent out there.

Some accuse the government of social engineering in their calls to get more students from deprived backgrounds into university.

But Denham suggested that universities would suffer if they do not try and sort it out.”It is in the interests of universities, individually and collectively, to identify and nurture our more able young people,” he said. “If they do so, they will reap the benefits of having the most able students.”

But Cambridge Director of Admissions, Geoff Parks, rejected claims that the University is biased against certain types of schools or applicants.

In a statement he told The Cambridge Student “it is not true that students from fee-paying schools have a much greater chance of getting into Cambridge than students from maintained sector schools.

“Around a third of students from independent schools and selective state schools are successful in their applications to Cambridge and around a quarter of students from non-selective state schools.

“All applicants are considered carefully as individuals on their own merits” he concluded.

Tamara Young