Oxford equity adds up

August 30, 2002

Harold Perkin says that Oxbridge dons are "admissions amateurs" who used to sneak preferential treatment to the children of alumni ("Selection correction", THES , August 23). He contrasts this with the professionalism of US academia. Yet two years ago, US admissions staff admitted to a UK Commons education select committee their eagerness to give preference to alumni's - more specifically, donors' - children.

Perkin calls for a pre-university syllabus more broadly based than A-levels - not a change within the power of Oxbridge lecturers. Oxbridge use interviews to select between students because A-level results offer inadequate differentiation. Interviews include aptitude tests that are more incisive than the US SAT, for which wealthy families can buy extra tuition and extra points.

Perkin alleges bias in selection because about half of Oxbridge admissions come from the private sector, which caters "for 7 per cent of the age group". In fact, the private sector caters for 20 per cent of A-level students and for about 35 per cent of those getting the top grades. That 35 per cent makes up about half of applications - in line with the number of places awarded. If anything, state-school applicants have had proportionately greater success in getting offers and are more likely to be admitted with lower A-level scores.

Evan Harris
MP, Oxford West and Abingdon

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