Students applying to Oxford will now have their postcode taken into account as admissions tutors consider which applicants to interview.
A University spokesperson said that the move was not about “massaging our figures” but “finding the brightest students with the greatest potential to succeed at Oxford.” She insisted that academic excellence would not be compromised.
Tutors will also look at the results achieved by the applicant’s school, whether they have spent time in care, or attended specific programs for disadvantaged pupils. Any sufficiently able student who is flagged up in at least three of the criteria will be interviewed.
Students will still need predictions of 3 As at A-Level and must be within the top 80% in any pre-interviews tests. The spokesperson said the information will play “no part in deciding who will receive an offer, or what that offer is.”
Paul Dwyer, OUSU VP for Access and Academic Affairs, suggested that the university may be engaging in what OUSU deems “positive discrimination” on the grounds of a student’s socio-economic status or geographical location. He also highlighted OUSU policy which states that “contextual data that is not related to a student’s educational potential” during the admissions process.
Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said that he was “worried” by the measures and attributed the move to “governmental pressure.”
He said, “The key thing for a world class university is to select and admit students on the basis on their intellectual ability and that should be the sole determinant.”
A first year student at St Peter’s College called the changes a “step in the right direction”, and argued that many state schools are ill equipped for the Oxbridge application process.
She said, “I had to carry out most of the research myself and this isn’t particularly unusual. It’s great the university finally seems to be recognising this.”
Dr Tom Kemp, admissions tutor at St John’s, said, “the colleges still have the freedom to use whatever information they choose, and my own will not place very much weight at all on this particular evidence.”
Oxford’s announcement follows recommendations by the National Council for Educational Excellence that ‘contextual data’ should be used when assessing academic potential. There has been speculation that the £3,145 cap on what universities can charge each year might be removed, further limiting the higher educational opportunities open to poorer students.
In February, Bill Rammell, the higher education minister, singled out Oxford and Cambridge as the poorest recruiters of state school pupils. Nationally, only 29% of students are from poor backgrounds, whilst at Oxford and Cambridge the level is significantly lower – 9.8% and 11.9% respectively.
A study by the Sutton Trust last year showed that students from top private schools were twice as likely to gain admission as those from top grammar schools.