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The BBC's Jon Brain
"One of the top pupils in the country"
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Friday, 26 May, 2000, 09:03 GMT 10:03 UK
Chancellor attacks Oxford admissions
Magdalen College and Laura Spence montage
Magdalen told Laura Spence it had better applicants
The Chancellor, Gordon Brown, has said it is "an absolute scandal" that a pupil from a state comprehensive was refused a place at an Oxford College - only to win a scholarship to Harvard.

I say it is time to end the old Britain where what mattered was the privilege you were born to not the potential you were born with

Gordon Brown
His remarks about the case of Laura Spence from Monkseaton Community High School in Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear, came during a speech to the Trades Union Congress.

Mr Brown said she had been denied a place at Oxford due to "an old establishment interview system".

Oxford University has said it finds his remarks "deeply disappointing".

The Conservatives accused Mr Brown of "ignorant prejudice".

'End privilege'

Mr Brown told a TUC reception celebrating 30 years of equal pay legislation that he and the Education Secretary, David Blunkett, "both take the view that it is an absolute scandal" that Laura, with 10 A* GCSE exam passes, "finds an old establishment interview system denying her access to the first university of her choice, though she was worthy of a scholarship to Harvard".

Oxford University is constantly seeking out the most able students to come and study with us - whatever school they have been to

Vice-chancellor Dr Colin Lucas
"I say it is time to end the old Britain where what mattered was the privilege you were born to not the potential you were born with.

"Remove the old barriers, open up our universities and let everyone move ahead."

Blair agrees

A spokesman for the prime minister's office said Tony Blair shared Mr Brown's view that young people who got good results should be able to go to the best universities.

Laura is expected to do equally well in her A-level exams.

After being turned down by Magdalen, she became one of only 10 British students to win Harvard scholarships - worth, in her case, 65,000.

The revelation raised questions over Oxford's policy of trying to recruit more state school pupils.

The Downing Street spokesman said the Chancellor was making the point that background should not be as important as talent.

The government wanted excellence to be recognised in all parts of the community and wanted the best universities to open their doors to all parts of the community.

He said it was not for the government to determine admissions procedures at Oxford. But it was "clearly regrettable" if talented people from this country were unable to develop their talents here.

Oxford retaliates

Oxford University's vice-chancellor, Dr Colin Lucas, said: "The remarks made today by the Chancellor of the Exchequer are deeply disappointing and I am dismayed that claims of this kind are made without knowledge of the real facts behind the headlines.

Oxford VC Dr Colin Lucas
Colin Lucas: "Open doors policy"
"Oxford University is constantly seeking out the most able students to come and study with us - whatever school they have been to, whatever their background, whatever their accent.

"None of this matters in our pursuit of the best students who would benefit from what Oxford has to offer."

Oxford had "opened its doors", he said.

This year it had made 53% of its offers of places to UK students from the state sector, but was not complacent.


It had pioneered "summer schools" initiatives to give state school pupils a flavour of university life and this year would be hosting one of the government-funded summer schools.

"To imply that we are not doing anything is damning of all those members of staff and students who are actively working on a range of access initiatives to encourage able young people who might never have considered applying to Oxford to aim for the top," Dr Lucas said.

A spokesman for the Conservative Party said: "This is ignorant prejudice.

"Why doesn't Gordon Brown get on with delivering at least some of the things Labour were elected on, rather than telling universities which candidates they should pick for which courses, when he can't possibly know the full facts."

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15 May 00 | Education
Oxford seeks state school students
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