Letter: Oxford equality

November 24, 2000

In their latest analysis of Oxford University's admissions statistics, A. H. Halsey and N. G. McCrum ("The slow but certain arrival of equality at Oxford University", THES , November 17) show evidence for an approach to equality within the selection system over the past six years, "equality" in this case being a measure of the similarity in success rates of candidates from different social classes.

But the data they present refute their own view that the interview is the main source of inequality in the selection process. In the past six years, the entrance examination has been abolished and the proportion of applicants who gain 30 A-level points has increased. The interview must, therefore, play a more important role in selection now than six years ago; yet there is less variation in the success rates of applicants from different social groups than there has been in the past.

These data contradict Halsey and McCrum's assertion that the child from "a skilled manual home finds it more difficult to convince interviewers of his merit". Trained interviewers looking for motivation, enthusiasm and academic potential are able to find this, irrespective of a candidate's demeanour.

There is also, of course, a further dimension. Equal likelihoods of success for those who care to apply is only the first step towards equality of opportunity for all of those who have the ability to apply in the first place.

David Pyle St Catharine's College, Cambridge

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