Headlines: November 19th, 2009

A new report says Oxford and Cambridge are qualitatively different from other UK universities but suggests they could follow some American institutions in being explicit about their aims to achieve the best social and ethnic mix of students. The independent higher education think tank, HEPI, carried out the study to examine what makes Oxford and Cambridge different.

Today’s report looks at the universities from a number of angles, including the ability of students measured by their previous achievements, aspects of the universities’ provision and graduate outcomes, such as the number appearing in ‘Who’s Who’ or the number of UK professors who attended Oxford or Cambridge.

Bahram Bekhradnia, HEPI’s Director, said the study showed that the nature of the student bodies was notably skewed in favour of independently educated and better off students, but the findings confirmed this was because of academic, not social, selection and was the result of the unequal outcomes of the school system.

But he added: “Nevertheless, there is some evidence to suggest that Oxford and Cambridge admit more independent school pupils than is warranted and that their insistence that they will not engage in social engineering but will make decisions about admissions on purely academic grounds leaves them vulnerable to the charge of social elitism.”

There seemed to be no reason, he said, that they should not copy some of the great American universities which were explicit that they aimed to achieve the best social and ethnic mix they could while always insisting on the highest academic standards.