By Nadya ThormanOxford and Cambridge have rejected a government attempt to forge stronger links between universities and academies. The government has appealed to universities to sponsor academies in order to raise educational standards in deprived areas. However Oxford and Cambridge Universities are not among the 20 universities currently signed up to the academy scheme and refuse to commit to sponsorship of local schools. The Universities Secretary John Denham intended university sponsorship of academies to help bridge the gap between universities and disadvantaged communities. He said, “It is clear that the universities that recruit the vast majority of students from a small minority of society are missing out on a huge amount of talent. Widening participation in higher education should be seen as talent spotting by universities.” The North Oxford Academy, which opened last month to replace Drayton school in Banbury, relies on charity funding. Martyn Maker, project manager for the school, said he would welcome a partnership. “We are keen to build links with different agents in the community. Cooperation with [the university] would encourage young people into further education.” A spokesperson for Oxford University said, “Oxford attracts able students from all across the country and we feel that it is important that our access work broadly reflects this national role.” The University maintains that it participates in numerous access schemes, both locally and nationally, which aim to improve application numbers from a range of different backgrounds. They added, “We would be reluctant to be formally associated with a single school.” OUSU Access Officer, James Lamming expressed his support for the University’s decision. “Oxford should reach out to talented students in every school, rather than focusing its efforts on one particular academy. Sponsoring a school also prevents a minefield of difficulties, including creating potential conflicts of interest in the admissions process and distorting local education provision.” Oxbridge has often faced criticism in the past for its low state-school intake, with only 54% of students at Oxford and 57% at Cambridge being drawn from the maintained sector.
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