End is nigh for Oxbridge hegemony, says leading head

In an article in the Times, 21/08/13, Greg Hurst reports on HMC's incoming Chairman, Dr Tim Hands' prediction that a “super Ivy League” of elite universities will break the dominance of Oxford and Cambridge in the race to recruit Britain’s brightest students.

Several universities and colleges in London have already narrowed the gap, Tim Hands, incoming chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference of top private schools, said. He added that it would benefit young people if the “hegemony” of Oxford and Cambridge were to be broken.

Imperial College, University College London and the London School of Economics were becoming more attractive to the highest-achieving students, along with universities such as Durham and Warwick, he said.

Dr Hands is Master of Magdalen College School, in Oxford, whose A-level results are among the best in England and which this year is sending 47 pupils to Oxford and Cambridge.

But he said: “If we can get rid of the Oxbridge hegemony it will be so much better for young people. Just as the 11-plus divided people into sheep and goats, anything that makes people at 18 think they are sheep and goats is bad or must be in danger of being bad. So if we could have a perception that there is a wider set of top universities, that will have to be good. And there are many signs that is happening.”

He regularly tells parents of his pupils that Oxford and Cambridge are “not the be-all and should not become the end-all”.

He said: “Parents and pupils do tend to see those universities — after all, they have their own term, Oxbridge — as being apart, in a league of their own. I think that can be very harmful to young people’s self-perceptions and to parents’ aspirations.

“We are going to have a super Ivy League of Imperial, UCL, LSE, and then Oxbridge won’t be so apart, which must be good for our society. We are already getting towards it.”

Last year Cambridge had 15,701 applications for undergraduate places and accepted 3,437 of them, of whom 97.4 per cent achieved A-level grades of A*AA or better. Just under 80 per cent are from Britain. Oxford had an even higher attrition rate, with 17,241 applications and 3,233 acceptances.

Data from The Times Good University Guide does not suggest any narrowing of the gap between Oxford and Cambridge, which have vied for top place through its history, and Britain’s remaining universities.

When the guide was launched in 1993 the gap between them and third place, then held by Imperial College, was 40 points. Imperial closed the gap over the next decade, coming within ten points of Cambridge in 2003, but in last year’s guide the gap between Cambridge and the London School of Economics, in third place, had widened again to 80 points.

However, in terms of research funding, which tends to be concentrated in science and medicine, many academics predict a de facto super-league of British universities that will include Imperial, UCL, King’s College London and Manchester.

Last spring the Russell Group of Britain’s biggest research universities expanded from 20 members to 24, as it opened its doors to Durham, Exeter, York and Queen Mary University of London. Some university leaders say that the Russell Group, a private company limited by guarantee, with no mechanism for expelling members, has now become too big and predict a future move to create a smaller, breakaway group.

Click here to read the article © The Times.