X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week. If you receive it, you’ll also find your subscriber number at the top of our weekly highlights email.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.spectator.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050. If you’ve only just subscribed, you may not yet have been issued with a subscriber number. In this case you can use the temporary web ID number, included in your email order confirmation.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

If you have any difficulties creating an account or logging in please take a look at our FAQs page.

Blogs

University Admissions Should Be a Matter of Discrimination - Spectator Blogs

6 September 2012

5:39 PM

6 September 2012

5:39 PM

Cristina Odone begins her latest oh-woe-is-Britain post most amusingly:

Around the world, people have long envied Britain’s two institutions: the BBC and Oxbridge. Britons, however, (or some of them) are determined to destroy both. They are going about it in a brutal and obvious way, by lowering standards for both Auntie and the great universities of Oxford and Cambridge. The BBC abroad was a byword for beautifully written and brilliantly produced programmes such as “The World at War” and “Upstairs Downstairs”. But in its obsession with “diversity”, the Beeb has allowed standards to slip: comedies that aren’t funny (but don’t sound middle class) and reality shows that teach nothing but how temporal celebrity is, have taken over the schedule. Soon the BBC brand will be synonymous with Simon Cowell rather than David Attenborough, Laurence Friedman and literary classics. It will, in other words, be a joke.

I say this is amusing because, of the many programmes one might cite to praise the BBC, it’s droll to choose two that were made for ITV. Entertaining too to suggest the BBC “brand” will be synonymous with another ITV man, Simon Cowell at the expense of “literary classics” even as the corporation broadcasts a lavish, very fine, adaptation of Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End.

Unfortunately this might be the high-point of Ms Odone’s lament. She argues:

The same is going to happen to Oxbridge (and the other top universities), if the Coalition’s “access adviser” Prof Les Ebdon has his way.

[…] When children leave secondary schools without knowing how to read, write or do their sums, what can a university, even the best university, do with them? It is not fair to push an illiterate into Oxford instead of a brilliant middle-class child. It’s not fair, and it’s not good for anyone: not for the illiterate who will feel out of her depth; not for the university which will have compromised its standards and name; not for the economy which will have lost out on a potential talent.

Well! As it happens I also think the Office for Fair Access is a nonsense but not because I think it’s going to insist Oxford (or anyone else) accepts “illiterates” (what a smoothly unpleasant way of putting it, incidentally). Rather I think it’s unnecessary because Britain’s best universities are already – and have been for years – acutely conscious of the need to admit students from a wide range of backgrounds. Perhaps they could do more but no-one who knows anything about their activities can deny that Oxford and Cambridge, in common with other leading universities, run any number of “access” programmes. Indeed they already do pretty much all the things OFFA wants them to do.

[Alt-Text]


That means that, actually, there are plenty of occasions in which potential students from private schools lose out to pupils from comprehensives whom admissions tutors think have more potential even if they have thus far achieved poorer exam results. And that’s as it should be.

Universities should be free to admit whomever they like for whatever reasons they choose. That’s one reason for having an interview system rather than an admissions system overly-dependent upon examination results. Not every university can afford this, however.

Odone continues:

This is not to deny that British education is hopelessly divided (and divisive). On the one hand, we have world-renowned private schools, that have Russian oligarchs and Arab sheikhs vying to send their progeny to. They are the envy of the world’s elite. On the other, we have state schools so poor that Britain languishes towards the bottom of the pile in every international league table. Bridging this gulf is the big challenge before us – not diluting the quality of the best universities.

Actually, British education – or, rather the different education systems within the United Kingdom – does not languish at the “bottom of the pile in every international league table”. The most recent PISA scores place England just inside the top half of the 67 countries measured, a little behind Scotland and some way ahead of Wales. That may not be as good as we might wish but there’s no need to claim the results are worse than they actually are.

And, of course, “bridging this gulf” is exactly what selective university admissions tailored to specific circumstances is actually designed to achieve.

As I say, OFFA is a foolish sop to the Lib Dems but it’s utterly mistaken to suppose it will either cripple Oxbridge or that it’s anything like the most important element of education policy. On the contrary, improving the early years of education is the most important thing. Then you can begin to talk about secondary education.

Improving standards across the board is important but, yes, it’s appalling that so few schools produce so much of the talent that makes it to Britain’s leading universities. Which is why discrimination in university applications is actually a good thing. It is a nonsense to pretend that tiny inconveniences or additional hurdles placed in the way of the 7% of kids educated privately is some kind of national disgrace, far less that doing so is going to “ruin” Britain’s leading universities.

Again, however, discrimination is a feature not a bug so there’s no real need for OFFA at all as universities are perfectly capable of managing these things for themselves.

Give something clever this Christmas – a year’s subscription to The Spectator for just £75. And we’ll give you a free bottle of champagne. Click here.


Show comments
Close