Universities minister Sam Gyimah has threatened Oxford that it may face sanctions over access inequality, as the fall-out from the university’s first-ever undergraduate admissions reports continues.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Gyimah said that “very hard levers” were available to the new Office for Students if the University’s admissions statistics did not improve.
Gyimah, who was elected as president of the Oxford Union in 1997, also called for Oxbridge to make more use of ‘contextualised’ admissions.
Gyimah said: “The numbers that we are seeing now disappoint me, and it’s disappointing because it’s been going on for too long.
“Years ago we were having the same debate about Oxford and Cambridge as we are today, and that is very disappointing.
“I don’t think they’re doing enough…It is staggering that we have the best minds in our universities and we still do not know what the best way is when it comes to applications.”
Gyimah, the Conservative MP for East Surrey, stressed that the Universities could face monetary sanctions if they fail to meet targets.
“The new regulator for universities, the Office for Students, has access and participation remits with every university, and they will have stretching targets,” he said.
“They will have to deliver against these targets set by the regulator, who can ultimately fine them.”
Gyimah’s comments come weeks after the Chair of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon, called for sanctions if Oxford and Cambridge failed to address their “social justice problem.”
Halfon said: “I would like to see the elite universities properly being held to account for the numbers of disadvantaged students they admit – and the support they receive whilst studying.
“Perhaps we should regard universities as elite only if they are providing a real ladder of opportunity to the disadvantaged. Maybe universities should only be seen as ‘the best’ when they lead their students to well-paid job destinations and reduce Britain’s skills deficit.
“The new Office for Students must lead in this. There must be sanctions from the new regulator for those universities who are failing in this regard.”
In March, the Higher Education Standards Agency (Hesa) revealed that Oxford accepted fewer applications from poor neighbourhoods in the 2017-18 academic year than any other mainstream institution.
Just 2.8% of the University’s intake were from students who live in areas classified as the most difficult to engage in higher education.
Gyimah also called for the universities to consider more ‘contextualised’ admissions, after other Russell Group universities including University College London, King’s College London, and York introduced schemes to improve the uptake of disadvantaged students.
Gyimah said: “There are rules to this game, and there are some schools from the age of 12,13, that are schooling their students…so that when they get to A-levels it is part of their DNA.
“If you go to a school where this is not the system at all, you find it very difficult to catch up. You’re quite smart, you’ve got the potential, but there’s no one there to help you.
“What Oxford should be doing is helping those schools who do not have those inbuilt systems, to actually develop those advantages in those schools. If you don’t know those systems, you don’t have a hope of getting through.
“I think it is right that they take into account a broad range of factors, not just the performance in the tests.”