Oxford University faculties are in danger of re-inventing the entrance exam - abolished this year to encourage more applications from state school pupils, student union leaders have claimed.
Some faculties, such as mathematics, are introducing two-and-a-half hour "tests" to sift out the best candidates, following the university's decision to do away with the traditional entrance exam.
The Oxford University Student Union said that the faculties were ignoring university advice that applicants should not be given unseen tests lasting more than an hour.
Adam Shapiro, OUSU president, said long tests were likely to be as daunting as the entrance exam for state school pupils, who were less likely than their independent school peers to have been thoroughly prepared for the trial by their teachers. "There is an interesting question about when a two-and-a-half hour unseen test becomes an entrance examination," he said.
OUSU raised the issue as the university published admissions figures for last year showing that independent school applicants continue to be significantly more successful than those from state school. Of 4,459 applying from state schools, 1,390 secured a place - an acceptance rate of 31.2 per cent; while of 3,560 who applied from independent schools, 1,500 won a place - an acceptance rate of 42.1 per cent.
The entrance exam was scrapped in an effort to even up the balance in intakes from state and independent schools, which has remained at about 43 per cent for state and 46 per cent for independent (with about 11 per cent from other institutions like further education colleges) for the past three years. In the past, most independent school applicants have gained places through the entrance exam, while state school pupils have preferred to try for a conditional offer.
Jane Minto, secretary of the Oxford colleges admissions office, said the university hoped that the removal of the exam would encourage more state school pupils to apply.