Contextual admissions and Oxbridge

Following the announcement by Oxford University that it is to increase its proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, Chris Ramsey, Headmaster of Whitgift School and HE spokesman for HMC, said:

Oxford and Cambridge are two of the leading universities in the world, offering an experience different to any other, and both universities are rightly trying to admit students fairly, on the basis of real potential as well as attainment, and from a properly broad societal base.

Contextual admissions are nothing new, and HMC schools themselves use the practice. They are a good thing when applied fairly and carefully, and when students admitted are fully supported, academically and pastorally.

It is important to acknowledge, however, that school type itself is not a reliable indicator of socio-economic advantage or background. There are well off families using state education and disadvantaged pupils in independent schools.

It is also worth remembering that prior attainment is the best indicator of success at university, and hard-working pupils in independent schools are gaining exceptional grades and are well prepared in their attitude to learning. However, Oxbridge is not for everyone and many bright students are looking overseas for more holistic higher education.

We believe in equality of opportunity, and with more and more students applying to Oxbridge, we wonder whether it is impossible for the universities to expand? Surely there should be room for as many as possible of the best candidates.