Elite universities should scrap the interview process in favour of A-level results if they want to increase the number of successful applications from state schools, the Commons education select committee heard this week.
Gerry McCrum, an emeritus fellow at Hertford College, Oxford, told the committee that he favoured A-level results over interviews because "too many mistakes were made during the interview process" by both the interviewee and interviewer.
"Our academics have to take part in interviews one week out of every year, with very little training, and then go back to their teaching and research lives. And although some pupils will have been well prepared for the interview, many 18-year-olds will just go quiet," he said.
Dr McCrum said that admissions officers should also be able to rely on additional information provided on the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service application form, such as sporting achievements or musical interests.
Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat higher education spokesman, asked whether the lack of face-to-face contact would lead to further discrimination against state schools. "Surely it is the business of independent school head teachers to write good reports to ensure that their pupils are accepted?" But Dylan William, head of education at King's College, London, urged the committee not to restrict the admissions process to A-level results.
"The modularisation of A levels has increased their reliability, but they should still be regarded as a means to an end, not as an end unto themselves. There are still vast differences in ability and learning between the state and independent sectors, and if we want to really level out the playing field, admissions officers should ask state school pupils for six points less than from independent pupils," Professor William said.
Chelly Halsey, an emeritus fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford, said that the government needed to shift its scrutiny from Oxford's admissions systems to the underfunding of the state school system in general.
In a separate session, representatives of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals told the committee that they did not discriminate in favour of pupils from fee-paying schools.
Geoffrey Copland, vice-chancellor of the University of Westminster, said:
"I think admissions systems are fair."
But he added: "I think we still have much to do in terms of raising aspirations among all sections of the community and making sure they can position themselves in the best possible way to gain access to higher education."