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Wednesday, 12 July, 2000, 18:57 GMT 19:57 UK
Heads attack Oxford 'special relationships'
Oxford University
Oxford has defended its admissions process
Head teachers' leaders have claimed that longstanding links between individual schools and Oxford and Cambridge universities are unfairly assisting applications.

Addressing the House of Commons education select committee, John Dunford of the Secondary Heads Association said that links between schools and Oxbridge colleges provided an advantage denied to schools without an Oxbridge tradition.

Independent schools, which send a disproportionate number of pupils to Oxbridge, have in the past developed links with universities or colleges.

And Mr Dunford said that he had evidence "that personal contacts are important".

The principal of Peter Symonds sixth form college in Winchester, Neil Hopkins, echoed these concerns, telling MPs that "knowledge of how the application system works is often critical".

Mr Hopkins also suggested that the low number of state school pupils at Oxford reflected a lack of awareness of the state sector, saying that Oxford academics were "ignorant" about sixth form and further education colleges.

Oxford University, in a subsequent statement, reasserted its commitment to offering a fair application process to pupils of all backgrounds.

"Our position remains perfectly clear - Oxford University wants to attract the brightest and best students, irrespective of their educational and social backgrounds."

Rather than encourage a widening of access, a Conservative MP has claimed that the debate over university elitism has put off would-be state school applicants to Oxford University.

Nick St Aubyn said that 30 state school pupils had written to Oxford withdrawing applications as a result of the argument over elitism and the case of Laura Spence, who was rejected by Oxford University and then offered a scholarship by Harvard University.

See also:

03 Jul 00 | Correspondents
30 Jun 00 | Education
26 May 00 | Education
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