Private Schools Criticise Plans to Widen Access for Poorer Pupils at University

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The number of state school pupils gaining undergraduate places at Oxford University has risen to a record-breaking figure of 70% for the next academic year. While this would appear commendable by many, key figures from private school sectors have expressed concern that expanding access schemes for the most selective universities in England could disadvantage those who are privately educated “on the basis of the class they were born into.” 

The intervention by the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), a body representing many of the country’s most expensive independent schools, has criticised the target laid out by the Office for Students which aims to halve the “access gap” between wealthier and poorer students in the next five years. 

The Office for Students has set several plans to “eliminate the gap in entry rates at higher tariff providers between the most and least represented groups” as well as “eliminate the gap in entry rates between white and black students.”

Mike Buchanan, executive director of the HMC, said

“we urge the government to enable universities and colleges to expand to take as many truly suitable students as necessary, rather than rob some students of a future to award it to others.”

Samina Khan, Director of Undergraduate Admissions and Outreach at Oxford, however, explains that she knows

“the wealth of talent that lies there [in state schools]” and will continue to congregate the number of students from underrepresented backgrounds. 

A spokeswoman for Universities UK states that the Office for Students’ targets

“show an unprecedented level of ambition”. But she further explains how “long term funding is required to improve our understanding of what works  to continue reducing the equality gap.”

With more than a fifth of young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds gaining access to a place at university across the UK, the “equality gap” would appear to be weakening. 

However, despite only 7% of British people being privately educated, Oxbridge (Oxford and Cambridge University) continues to award nearly 40% of places to individuals from these privileged backgrounds.  

Mike Buchanan continues to assures that:

“the reality is that a number of applicants from independent schools are bursary pupils from deprived backgrounds.”

He also promises that:

“Pupils at HMC schools are, and will continue to be, highly successful in gaining places at the most academically selective universities, including Cambridge.”

Image: The Guardian