Oxbridge-a  focus  entirely on Academic, may be costing it

US Colleges  likely to benefit


A spokeswoman for Oxford University  told the New York Times  a couple of weeks ago  that 36,000 students got three A’s last year. Of those, 17,000 applied to Oxford. Oxford has just 3,000 places on offer. Hence many candidates are bound to be disappointed.

Oxford  has for a while now been making a concerted effort to widen its intake. “We spent over £4 million on access last year, hosting 1,400 separate events, and making contact with 78 percent of the schools in Britain,” she said.  Last year Oxford also ran three summer schools for “students from under-represented groups,” she added. All of those students attended state schools, and 40 percent of them were eventually offered places at Oxford. But she also noted “a cultural difference” between Britain and the United States: “The exclusive focus in admissions on academic merit (rather than personal merit or the contribution you can make to the student body).” She added, “We really are obsessed with finding the most academically able person.”

It is well known that universities have had trouble distinguishing between A grade candidates although because Oxbridge interview candidates it is less of a problem for them than other universities. But what is  particularly interesting here is the admission that Oxford  is almost entirely focused on  ‘the academic’. So if a pupil contributes to extra-curricular activities in music, drama, sport, the Duke of Edinburgh award, community service or  they  engage in those activities and  exhibit those attributes  that suggest  a  rounded   character, then  this is not taken into account in the admissions process. Anthony Seldon was shocked recently when a Wellington College pupil returned from an interview at Oxford in which  one of the tutors   confessed to not being broad minded, and ,indeed,  went further by suggesting  that  his college was not looking for broadminded people. Apparently he wasn’t smiling  when  he said it. US Colleges, such as Harvard, have precisely the opposite attitude, which  may go some way to explaining why they are  attracting vastly increased numbers of our brightest pupils, to Oxbridges cost, of course.  Oxbridge have a reputation for asking candidates what they can do for the university , rather than explaining,  as Ivy League Colleges do, what they can do  for the candidate. This  smacks of complacency (not to mention philistinism)  at a time when Oxbridge is having to front up to increased global competition.  As far as state school applicants are concerned, Oxbridge are in a much better place now than they were say five years ago. But they will be under even more pressure, now that they are opting for the maximum fee hike, to accommodate disadvantaged pupils. The  Sutton Trust indicates that by using A level results as a filter, elite British universities may actually be missing able candidates. “All our studies suggest that when you enrol a state school kid they are more likely to do well at university than someone from a private school with the same A levels,” said Lee Elliot Major, the trust’s policy director. Mr. Elliot Major suggested that one way to overcome this was for universities to “use more contextual information” as part of the admissions process. “A poor child is more likely to be at a school that doesn’t push them to reach their full potential. But when they get to university they really fly.”  This may be true for some but what it doesn’t do is  factor in  that  many pupils  with poorer grades  from disadvantaged backgrounds may find the academic, social  and cultural pressures at Oxbridge hard to cope with. It is a very challenging environment, not renowned  either for its pastoral support.




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