Data to end quota debate

November 29, 2012

There is an easy way to answer the objection raised by Toby Young in his debate with Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws at the Oxford Union recently that capping the proportion of privately educated students admitted to Oxbridge would lead to a fall in the standard of entry at the two institutions ("Oxford admissions rouse passion as two tribes war over 'unfairness'", 1 November). All we need to do is to look at the finals performance of all students admitted to those universities over the past five to 10 years to see whether the achievement of privately educated students has been so much greater than those who are state educated.

To make this more precise, I would introduce further distinctions between those who are privately educated, those who attend highly selective state schools (private in all but name) and those who go to comprehensives or further education colleges.

Did the privately educated students really do so much better - or even better at all - than those who were selectively educated or went to non-selective state schools and/or further education colleges? If not, this would show that the privately educated are not the most able, as Young implied. He would then have no need to worry that the standing of the universities would decline if quotas to boost state-school numbers were introduced.

My own view is that those highly motivated state-educated students who do manage to get into Oxford or Cambridge, sometimes from backgrounds of considerable disadvantage, are likely to do just as well if not better than possibly less well-motivated students who come to Oxbridge from privileged backgrounds. However, my point is that there is no need for us to debate the question any further since the colleges already have to hand the data required to answer this point once and for all.

Kenneth Smith, Senior lecturer in criminology, Bucks New University.

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