Pembroke students have voiced their dismay after the college hosted a ‘silent auction’ run by Abingdon School, a leading independent school, which included the auctioning of internships. One Pembroke second-year student branded the auction “disgusting”.
The auction, which took place at the end of Trinity term, included lots which offered placements at The Berkeley Group and Cancer Research Technology. The practice has come under fire in recent weeks after MPs released an open letter to Westminster School, which conducted a similar auction, calling the practice “explicitly favouring privilege”. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, an alumnus of Westminster, was also vocal in condemning his alma mater.
Felicity Lusk, Headmistress of Abingdon School, responded to these claims by saying, “The silent auction was organised by the Abingdon School Parents’ Association in order to raise funds for the School. As with any school we are very grateful to all the people – individuals, parents and former pupils – who support the School. We are very appreciative of any company or organisation who offers work experience opportunities. The internships offered in the silent auction are open to whoever the person who bid for them chooses – they may or may not be a pupil at Abingdon School. Abingdon School very much values being part of the local community working alongside other schools, most recently in providing science, music and and language teaching, to further education for all children.”
Despite this, David Messling, the OUSU Vice-President for Access and Academic Affairs at the time of the auction, responded by stating that, “The selling of internships flies in the face of any professed concern for social mobility. It is a practice so backward and obnoxious that by any modern standards of equality of opportunity it belongs in the middle ages. On behalf of students, we hope that the University and colleges are not permitting any such auctions to take place in Oxford. They are an insult to all the excellent work colleges, including Pembroke, are doing to make Oxford open to all.”
Pembroke’s JCR President Becky Howe told Cherwell that she found it “bizarre that internships – which are usually offered to students who have displayed their merit – can be awarded as prizes in an auction.” Will Brown, a Pembroke History and Economics student and Chair of the Living Wage Campaign, condemned the actions, stating that “flogging off internships to the highest bidder is an affront to the basic principles of meritocracy and fairness and I’d hope that such an ugly form of elitism would have no place at Pembroke. The college should be doing more to ensure that no student is excluded from internship opportunities by their financial circumstances, rather than helping to further entrench inequalities of opportunity.” Pembroke College was unavailable for comment.