There is no truth to claims that leading universities discriminate against applicants from private schools, the Independent Schools Council has said.
The largest ever analysis of applications to universities from from fee-paying schools has found no evidence of bias alleged by independent heads and parents. The ISC looked at applications to ten of the most popular courses at 30 top universities, in a survey of 560 independent schools that cover 20,000 pupils - a quarter of all applications from the sector.
The analysis shows that universities were even-handed in their treatment of independent and state school applicants. The findings fly in the face of allegations made two years ago that Bristol University was imposing quotas on independent school entrants.
The Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference and the Girls' Schools Association, which made the claim, urged schools to boycott Bristol.
In 60 of 300 courses analysed for the survey, 98 per cent or more of independent school applicants were offered a place. Rejection rates of up to 80 per cent at some universities simply reflected increased competition, the ISC said.
The HMC and the GSA said they accepted the survey findings proved there had been no bias.
A survey by the National Foundation for Educational Research has found that most students applying to Oxbridge are influenced more by academic factors than parental expectations.
Oxbridge applicants last year were attracted by the universities' prestige, courses and staff. Factors such as parents' education level no longer affected the decision. A similar study in 1998 found students with better qualified parents were more likely to aim for Oxbridge.