Oxbridge bows to state siege

October 24, 1997

OXBRIDGE struggled to show eagerness this week to improve access for state school pupils without raising the spectre of quotas.

A meeting of the Cambridge Admissions Forum agreed to aim for a 65:35 split between state and independent school students, as the present 50:50 ratio was criticised in the debate over keeping the college fee.

But the university has not set any time limit for raising the number of people from state schools and insists it will not introduce quotas or positive discrimination.

Measures under review include more advertising or employing a state schools liaison officer.

A spokeswoman for Oxford said the university had the same aims as Cambridge towards state school students. But she added: "We would stress that all candidates are considered very carefully from the maintained and private sector and we don't have any targets or quotas as such."

Phil Woolas, Labour MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, and a former president of the National Union of Students, said the universities should set quotas.

"I'm in favour of more centralisation," he said. "I don't believe we should tell universities to decide their own admissions policy given the stated purposes of Dearing to widen participation."

He said college fees were likely to be a hot political issue. "Most of us are fed up to the back teeth with Oxbridge getting preferential treatment," he said.

Oxbridge's case and Homeview, pages 9, 22

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