Oxford and Cambridge constituencies best for Oxbridge admissions

Helen Brannigan 22 March 2012

More students are admitted to Oxbridge from schools in Oxford and Cambridge constituencies than from any others in the country.

According to figures released last week in answer to a parliamentary question by Labour MP John Mann, 673 students were accepted to study at Oxford and Cambridge from Oxford West and Abingdon over the last decade. 558 were accepted from the Cambridge constituency.

In 2011 alone, 91 students from Oxford West and Abingdon were accepted by Oxbridge; 34 from Oxford East and 70 from Cambridge.

To put these figures into perspective, more than half of all 650 UK constituencies had 5 or fewer students being accepted to these Universities last year. 139 constituencies have had 5 or fewer acceptances for each of the past ten years.

It is important to note that the statistics use parliamentary constituencies rather than cities. So London, home to numerous elite schools, is divided into its 73 constituencies. Cumulatively, these do send far more students to Oxbridge than the Oxford and Cambridge constituencies combined.

Some of the London constituencies rating highest for the numbers of students taking up a place at Oxbridge in 2011 include Richmond Park, 76, Hampstead and Kilburn, 55, Finchley and Golders Green, 53, and the Cities of London and Westminster, 48.

The fact remains though that there is still a wide discrepancy between the two constituencies of Oxford and Cambridge and all others in the country.

It has been suggested that the schools in these cities are especially adept at, and focused on, preparing pupils for Oxbridge admissions. Perhaps due to their close contact with the Universities and knowledge of their admissions process they give pupils an unfair advantage.

Adam Sullivan, a third year Cambridge Natural Scientist who attended Magdalen College School in Oxford told The Cambridge Student: “The schools in both these cities are excellent. Or at least excellent at getting candidates into Oxbridge.”

July Dermont, a first year Cambridge PPS student, who attended an elite private girls school in Oxford, claims it is more a case of small class sizes: “We were never pressured to get into Oxbridge, but if we expressed an interest in going, they would help us. The teaching was not geared towards Oxbridge interviews, but the fact that the class sizes were so small meant that the discussions we had were very like the kind of discussion we might have in an interview.”

Both students stress that there is simply a very high concentration of good schools in the areas, such as famous private schools including The Perse School in Cambridge and Magdalen College School in Oxford. State schools in the areas are also superb. Hills Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge and the Cherwell School in Oxford, for example, are both excellent, multi-award winning state schools, each sending high numbers of students to Oxbridge.

The bias towards students from these cities may stem from their families. Dermont and Sullivan each added that a great deal of pupils at their schools had parents working as academics in the Universities. Sullivan added: “This will help them, not only by making them brighter (intelligence having some genetic association) but also will surround them in an academic environment and will provide them with the tools best suited for approaching the application process.”

On the other hand, a spokesman for the University of Cambridge insisted that “the success rate of suitably qualified applicants is broadly the same regardless of where in the UK they are from”.

He told TCS: “The single greatest factor influencing entry to highly selective universities is prior attainment. This is highly variable across and within LEAs. Success rates are also influenced by entry requirements, the subject mix offered by applicants, levels of competition for places on certain degrees, and whether potential applicants have been encouraged to aspire to a place at a highly selective institution like the University of Cambridge.

“The work of identifying, engaging with, and raising the aspirations of pupils currently under-represented at selective universities is a responsibility which is shared by many institutions and agencies.”

Helen Brannigan