|You are in: Talking Point|
Sunday, 4 November, 2001, 13:21 GMT
Does university elitism still exist?
A Cambridge college has defended its decision not to offer a place to a student who gained some of the best Higher results in Scotland.
Gary Sinclair who attended Fortrose Academy on the Black Isle, failed to get a place at Cambridge despite securing straight A-grades in his Higher, Sixth Year Studies and Advanced Higher exams in five subjects.
Mr Sinclair, 18, accused Magdalene College of elitism, saying his state school background had played a part in the decision.
The colleges admissions tutor, Dr Jane Hughes defended their actions and said the allegations were 'frustrating and perplexing'.
Does elitism still exist in society today? Is Cambridge the only place where elitism exists? Does it still play a part in your everyday life?
James Potter from Cambridge, England suggested this Talking Point.
To send in your Talking Point suggestions, Click here.
This Talking Point is now closed. Read you comments below.
My Cambridge interview could probably be summarised with, "So, you're a sociable young man, expecting excellent grades in five A- levels. At a state school. Isn't that quaint?"
I can thus sympathise a little, but have subsequently found that my chosen university, Imperial College in London, has an acceptably high international standing, and was far more the place for me.
With just about all my friends from home going to Cambridge, I found I could at least get some insight into the differences.
He'll look at it later in life and decide he didn't lose out; but maybe they did.
When are people going to learn that one can get a better education in some subjects outside of Oxbridge? The universities aren't so much elitist as the employers who automatically choose an Oxbridge candidate over someone who went somewhere else. Quite honestly one of the most genuinely stupid colleagues I've ever had obtained a 2.1 from an Oxford college. No idea how that was managed. A bright sixth-former would have had better intellectual abilities. Stop whingeing Mr Sinclair! Yes, you have been discriminated against, as is every applicant with outstanding records who is rejected. Do your homework and pick the best place for your subject.
Jared Oyston, England
I am pleased to see that the majority of these comments don't support the claims of the student in question. I too was predicted and received 5 A grades at A-Level but was rejected by my first choice Cambridge college. Fortunately another college picked up my application and I went on to have 3 wonderful years in Cambridge, with my comprehensive background having absolutely no detrimental impact on my time there. From personal experience I can say that pretty much all the colleges are doing what they can to increase their state intakes, but the problem is simply a lack of applications from state schools. More people should be encouraged to apply; unfortunately - with the best will in the world - they won't always get in, but it will not be their state education that prevents them, merely a lack of places.
Vlad Vaganov, Cambridge, UK
I was a student at Oxford myself, and also previously worked for an examination board. As such, I fully agree that just getting top grades at A level of the Scottish equivalent should not automatically mean an offer of a place at an Oxbridge college. When I applied to Oxford, I had to take the entrance exam, as well as survive an incredibly tough interview procedure. Both involved solving problems which were well above the standard required to get an A grade at A level.
Given the small number of available places at colleges, they have no choice but to require higher standards than those contained in straight A's at A-level.
More candidates with good grades than there are places at Oxbridge....when will people realise this? A string of top (predicted) grades is necessary but not sufficient to get a place. I'd like to share a quotation by Richard Dawkins, which I believe shows this whole debate up for the nonsense it is: "Only in Britain would 'elitist' be an insult".
Michael Entill, UK
I believe that just because somebody gains good grades at A Level or Highers, this shouldn't automatically entitle them to any University place. Most universities in the UK will interview candidates and the decision of whether to offer a place on a course is only partly influenced by previous exam results. Mr Sinclair probably has a right to ask for an explanation. However, if he thinks that he can simply walk into any institution during his life just by his academic ability, then it sounds like he's going to have to jump back down to reality quite soon!
Alex Banks, UK, living in Ireland
I went to a public school, and I didn't get into Cambridge or Oxford. Mind you, I got a B and an E for A-level. Seriously though, just getting straight A's means nothing in Oxbridge entrance. Far more people achieve straight A's than there are places at Oxbridge colleges, and so good A-level grades qualify you only to get to the interview stage. Perhaps Mr Sinclair just didn't perform well in the interviews.
I hope Oxbridge and other good universities maintain a strong commitment to elites: otherwise what is their point?
I am torn in my loyalties here. On one hand I'm a state-schooler and I know that Magdalene has a reputation as a haven for rich kids - on the other hand I enjoyed a successful education at Cambridge, and didn't personally feel any negative discrimination - quite the opposite in fact.
People need to realise that the success of Cambridge is all down to the students who go there. I met the most amazing characters at uni, from humble hard-working teetotallers, to flamboyant unsinkable drunkard geniuses. Cambridge is over-subscribed for applicants, especially in Natural Sciences. You've got to accept the risks of the competition. The interviewers need to be tough because each candidate is an investment for the future.
I don't believe the university is being biased in their judgements. Maybe public schools do give more opportunities to develop these non-academic skills, giving their applicants a boost, but if so it's a fault of the schooling system, not the university.
What pains me more is that there are a lot of bright state-schoolers who do not apply at all, as stereotypes/teachers/parents/peers make them think it's 'not for them'. In fact, they are the kind of people today's Oxbridge is looking out for! More applications would, I am certain, increase state-school representation.
As the originator of this debate, I'd like to make 3 suggestions:
I find the whole idea of basing admission on anything other than actual exam results ridiculous. Bring the A-levels forward so that admissions can be based on real results instead.
As for elitism. Let's stop blaming Oxbridge for that and have a look at society as a whole. I was recently in charge of training a new batch of graduates that had been recruited by a large corporation. Rather than hiring graduates with a suitable background (in this case computer studies), they'd hired geography, art, literature etc graduates from Oxford and Cambridge! For some reason, having an Oxbridge education in any old useless subject is supposed to make you better suited for good jobs? That's what's elitist and unfair. When we stop looking at the name of the university that candidates have attended and start looking at their actual qualifications I'm sure that these debates will die out.
Dinah Gordon, UK
Oh not this again! Every year it crops up without fail from somewhere. When will people realise that there is more to getting a place in Oxford or Cambridge than where you come from and what grades you have taken? They place great emphasis on character and out-of-classroom activities. Its great to hear that the guy has got loads of A's, but that doesn't mean that Oxford or Cambridge are the right places for him to study. They have to give places to those who will able to take the greatest advantage out of being there. The solution to his problem is to find a place elsewhere and stop blaming elitism that doesn't exist.
Sandra Irwin, UK
I got in from a Comprehensive school, and didn't feel any form of discriminination.
I would love to hear his reasons for thinking that he wasn't given a chance. Sounds like sour grapes to me.
A candidate at Oxford last year wanted to do medicine but was rejected. Not good enough? Got excellent A-level results, so it's blamed on Oxford's "elitism". But the candidate went on to do biochemistry abroad - not that desperate to do medicine after all, it would seem, so perhaps Oxford's decision was the right one. These are single instances amongst thousands and thousands of candidates. Interviews aren't supposed to be easy and there are limited places.
What a pathetic situation! I have several friends from my (private) school who were not given offers from Oxbridge but who gained 4 or more A grades at A level. Did they whinge? Did they complain that there is an anti-public school feeling amongst universities? No, they either re-applied, or went to another university.
I come from a comprehensive and took the Oxford maths entrance exam in 1989. Believe me, A-levels were a piece of cake in comparison and this was 12 years ago! The interview was equally tough. Cambridge has every right to select on the basis of an interview. It may appear elitist to some to reject a person with these grades but the fact it's possible to get 5 straight As these days (I have 4) just shows that additional selection methods are necessary.
Ebrahim, London, UK
Cambridge and Oxford clearly are elitist, having their own entrance exams on top of A levels. When I was thinking of going to university, I decided not to play their game, and instead applied to several other universities. I got my first choice, Birmingham University, where I studied physics. I was very pleased to get my degree from that university, which in my view is every bit as good as Oxford or Cambridge. There are plenty of other really good universities, too. People should stop pandering to the Oxbridge elitist mentality, and start giving them something to think about by refusing to apply to them.
I hope Oxford and Cambridge are elitist, if elitist means taking only the best. It's a shame that they don't have the capacity to accept all of the incredibly gifted students who apply there, but it just wouldn't be possible. No one from either Oxford or Cambridge would deny that there are many other excellent universities and it is people like David Hazel who discourage state school pupils from applying by promoting the unfounded view that the students and the universities themselves hold this belief.
I think that the top universities are not elitist. Getting grades is not simply good enough for you to gain a place at a University. There are far more aspects to University than academia alone. Would the footlights have produced as many great talents if academic requirements were the only entry guide? There has to be a certain "something" else for people to make it to the top. It sounds like sour grapes and is endemic of today's attitudes that someone is always to blame for an accident or failure.
Mike Britland, England
There are many more people who get straight A's than there are places at Oxbridge. One of the few things admissions tutors have to judge students by are the predicted grades. I understand that Mr Sinclair's predictions weren't as high as those who were accepted. This case highlights the absurdity of applying for university places before final results are known. I don't think he's the first student which this has happened to, and, under the current system, he won't be the last.
Universities are all about furthering the education of the best and brightest of our children. It is most fundamentally about elites - if it wasn't the whole thing wouldn't work. It is true that universities have been compelled to lower entrance standards and offer meaningless courses such as "Media Studies", and at the same time examination standards in school education have been lowered to give more people an increasingly worthless piece of paper. This is proven by the high and rising drop-out rate in universities, with students who are simply not capable of handling the work, and in the increasing difficulty companies have in recruiting higlhy educated employees. Universities (and schools) need more elitism, not less, for goodness sake, otherwise we are just producing a generation of graduates with worthless certificates. But there will be lots of them, so the government will be happy.
The whole idea is ridiculous. Mr. Sinclair and those who support his complaint need to face the fact that when applying to a top university, you are up against the top young people in this country and from abroad. Getting straight A grades is nothing in a situation like this. I would imagine the vast majority of candidates applying for this place will also have acheived the same results or better. Mr. Sinclair wasn't given an offer. That is the fact of the matter. It matters not whether he got straight A grades or straight E grades. He wasn't given an offer.
I'm not exactly clear about this "elitism" claim - surely the whole idea of University education per se is intended to be elitist - you go to University to obtain qualifications that the majority of people do not have - if everyone in the country had a degree there would be no point in having a degree!
But, I agree entirely with Will Britton (UK)'s comments - you will find that just about everybody applying to a University such as Oxford or Cambridge will have very high A level results, but at the end of the day there is a limited number of places. Some people will not get in.
I'm sure Mr. Sinclair will be able to get a very valuable and useful further education at another university - it may, however, help his cause if he stopped acting like a jealous kid who is whinging because he can't always have what he wants.
30 Oct 01 | Education
Cambridge counters 'elitism' claim
11 Jun 99 | Education
Oxbridge seeks more students from state sector
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
Other Talking Points:
Links to more Talking Point stories
|^^ Back to top
News Front Page | World | UK | UK Politics | Business | Sci/Tech | Health | Education | Entertainment | Talking Point | In Depth | AudioVideo
To BBC Sport>> | To BBC Weather>>
© MMIII | News Sources | Privacy