Dr Samina Khan, head of undergraduate admissions at Oxford University, has told the Times Education Supplement that applicants from poor backgrounds are more likely to be given interviews. Dr Khan was referring to the use of contextual data in the undergraduate admissions process.
Oxford currently uses the performance of an applicant’s school, their postcode and care background to judge their full potential. If a flagged candidate is not shortlisted for interview, despite a prediction of AAA+ and high subject scores, an explanation must be provided to the department.
The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, appointed by the government, recently criticised Oxford and Cambridge for failure to admit enough state-school pupils. In 2014, 56.3 per cent of Oxbridge students were state-educated.
Oxford University officially maintains that the state/independent school division is a misleading proxy for disadvantage. In its Access Agreement with the Office for Fair Access, the University has no set target regarding the state/ independent split.
The University also claims that, even if they were to use the state/independent school binary, it is “unclear how ‘disproportionate’ the state/ independent picture at Oxford actually [would be] – it’s often argued that only seven per cent of school pupils are at independent schools (while they make up over 40% of Oxford’s UK undergraduate intake). But more than one-third of students getting AAA or A*AA at A level (which is the bare minimum needed to apply for a place at Oxford) come from the independent sector – and things like subject choice and degree course choice narrow the picture further.”
Barnaby Lenon, Chairman of the Independent Schools Council and former headmaster of Harrow School, advised caution regarding Dr. Khan’s statement, saying, “admissions tutors at Oxford simply want the best students. A student with quite good grades from a school whose results are generally poor may well be as able as a student with higher grades from a high-achieving school.
“However, admissions tutors do not want to send the wrong signal to high-achieving schools (who provide a large proportion of the best undergraduates). So care is needed in terms of the messages which are sent out.”
Benjamin Peacock, Co-chair of Target Schools (the OUSU-sponsored access program), stated that he “fully supports the use of comparative data to level the playing field for students from state-educated backgrounds, as well as those who are young carers or have other extenuating circumstances.
“Application of such data accounts for the correlation between wealth and quality of education that is inherent in the UK, as well as many other disadvantages applicants face.”