Oxford admissions tutors fear that state school pupils may be deterred from applying to the university following chancellor Gordon Brown's remarks over the Laura Spence case, according to a new poll.
The Liberal Democrats asked tutors at Oxford colleges if they thought Mr Brown's attack on Oxford would give state school pupils the impression that Oxford was full of public school "toffs" and so not for them.
The latest figures show that applications for places at Oxford for 2001 from state school pupils are down by 1 per cent on the same time last year.
Mr Brown spoke out after Miss Spence's application to study medicine was turned down by Magdalen College. Mr Brown called her rejection an "absolute scandal", sparking media interest in whether Oxford and Cambridge remained bastions of public school elitism.
Evan Harris, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon and Lib Dem spokesman for higher education, and said that the poll's responses showed that tutors thought Mr Brown's remarks were at best unhelpful and at worst, could deter state school pupils from applying.
One tutor said: "We have been investing a large amount of time and effort in trying to turn around our pattern of applications... It would be lamentable if it transpires that we have been blown off course by the chancellor's remarks."
Another said: "I am sure that the impact will be felt in 2001, when I expect that a drop in state applicants will occur despite all the best efforts put in locally."
A third said: "The government's efforts were more of a hindrance than a help in our task of widening access."
A fourth said: "If any damage has been done, then I suspect it will be reflected in the number and profile of the applicants we receive in the next round of admissions."
Oxford has made considerable efforts in recent years to recruit more state school pupils through a variety of access initiatives. Vice-chancellor Colin Lucas described the latest figures as disappointing.
Dr Harris said: "This is the view from the frontline, and it is clear that the ill-founded intervention of government ministers in the Laura Spence case has been wholly counter-productive."
The nature of the poll means that The THES is unable to identify any of the tutors.