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Universities are not here to fix the faults of schools

I’ve never been a fan of the word “admissions”. Entry to a fairground is an admission. The red-faced explanation you make to the A&E duty nurse, as you recount how that got there, is an admission. That getting there in the first place: that, too, was an admission.

 And in evoking notions of pain, embarrassment and fairground folly, the phrase is also the perfect description of the Oxford interview process.

 It’s my aversion, nay, dread of the word that has caused me to never step foot in the University’s Admissions centre on Little Clarendon Street. I’m willing to overlook the fact that it looks like a run-down Thomas Cook; what I worry about is walking into some Admissions Anonymous session. “Hi, my name’s Bradley and I’ve been addicted to crack [colloquial term for UCAS Track] for three months now…”

 I don’t think many people share my irrational fear of the word. I doubt that it is the main reason for state schools’ underrepresentation in Oxford. The job of James Lamming, the Student Union’s access guru, would be pretty easy if it were.

 No, there are two entirely unetymological reasons why Oxford is overrun with smug columnists with double-barrelled surnames and a penchant for words like “unetymological”.

 Firstly, and to the detriment of everyone in Oxford who has even the slightest tendency to regionalist ridicule, too few people with easily-mocked accents are applying here.

 And then there are the lamentable practices of these tutors, who insist on applying their years of expertise in picking the candidates who show the most promise and who will give them the most pleasure (OK, least pain) to teach.

 Luckily, the change required isn’t as drastic as some fear. All that is required is a standard Oxford response. Namely paperwork.

 To avoid tutors exercising their good judgement, the Oxford Application Form (OAF – you couldn’t make it up) should be updated to reflect the realities of modern funny-accented Britain. Hit fifty points and you’re into Merton. Twenty and they might spare you a room at Harris Manchester.
For example: Which of these groups might you be interested in joining at Oxford?

 – Oxford University Labour Club (+5 points)
– OU Conservative Association (-10)
– OU Polo Club (-100)
– OU Mugging Grannies To Pay Tuition Fees Society (+15)
– Cherwell (-10,000)

 Perhaps the interview format could be adjusted slightly, just to ensure that you really can’t play polo and you really can mug grannies. (The techniques are surprisingly similar.)

 But it’s exactly that human touch in the interview process that you can’t beat. (Well, that tutor touch.) I’d take twenty minutes in front of a tweed-jacketed nutcase over application form nonsense any day. Besides, tutors would sooner take part in a mass Macarena than be replaced by forms that do a worse job than them.

 Of course we can make the ordeal more friendly and approachable for those not used to dreaming spires and the like. You know, T-shirts with “Hi, I’m Dr Smith, no question’s too stupid”. That said, the freshlings will be in for a shock at their first tutorial.

 But that’s it. Once the myth that Oxonians are hard-working no-mates is dispelled and once the world is convinced that academics are fluffier than blow-dried Care Bears, we can do no more.
Yet more is what is being asked of us by ministers, who want every university to financially and managerially support a city academy or trust school. I can’t think of a worse precedent to set (unless they asked us to, say, kill someone).

 First of all, have they seen how this University is governed? Would you trust your children with the Vice-Chancellor?

 Secondly, where do we draw the line? Or are we going to have to fix everything for the government, right back to child poverty and social inequality, where this mess began?

 Much as it hurts, we must firmly refuse to clear it up: we’ve done all we can.

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