Vice chancellor says ‘majority’ of UK politicians believe Oxford admissions are unfair

Richardson described the unpublished University-sponsored survey as "damning"

Richardson spoke on an 'Universities and Illiberalism' panel. Copyright: John Cairns

An Oxford University-sponsored public survey shows “most” Westminster politicians believe Oxford’s admissions are “very unfair”, according to Vice-Chancellor Louise Richardson, who disclosed the information during a panel discussion yesterday.

Richardson, speaking at a conference hosted by the University’s Bonavero Institute of Human Rights, said the survey indicated a “broad perception” of “deeply unfair” admissions procedures at Oxford.

She also alleged that it showed “most people” in the north of England believe more than 90% of Oxford students are privately educated. In reality, this group represents 41.8% of Oxford’s 2017 intake.

A spokesperson for the University confirmed the existence of the unpublished survey. During the conference, Richardson audibly questioned whether she “wanted to make this public, since it is so damming.”

On panel, Richardson also said that although “our admissions aren’t nearly as bad as they’re painted, [Oxford admission statistics] reflect the social inequalities outside the University.”  The results of the survey, she claimed, show that “most” UK politicians “don’t trust us [the University] to be fair with our admissions practices and have views of our admissions that are completely contrary to the reality.”

Stating, “this is our fault,” she placed the burden on the University to more effectively communicate Oxford’s admissions practices to the larger community. Improved communication of Oxford’s admissions, Richardson suggested, is both an ethical responsibility in attracting quality candidates and a pragmatic defense against political attacks.

Perception of unfairness in admissions, Richardson argued, “will make it so much easier for politicians to continue to attack us or use us as a whipping boy.” She also suggested that the University needs to “find a way to communicate [Oxford’s admission practices] much more effectively than we have done [in the past].”

Richardson made these comments during a panel discussion on ‘Universities and Illiberalism’, where she sat with five other global leaders in education. The discussion was part of the Bonavero Institute’s conference, ‘Confronting Illiberalism: The role of the Media, Civil Society and Universities,’ for which Secretary Hillary Clinton gave the keynote address.

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During the talk, Richardson reiterated her belief in Brexit as a symptom of illiberalism and expressed concerns over it’s effects on the student body at Oxford. She emphasized the unknown but potential impact on the makeup of the student body and internationally-oriented or financed research.

The University have been contacted for further comment on Richardson’s statements.

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