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Monday, 25 March, 2002, 08:52 GMT
Oxford 'cash for places' resignations
Oxford trades on its history of academic excellence
Two Oxford University academics have stepped down after they were accused of offering student places in return for substantial cash donations.

The Reverend John Platt and Mary-Jane Hilton, both fellows at Pembroke College, are to leave their posts "with immediate effect", the university announced in a statement on Sunday.

Their resignations follow an undercover investigation by the Sunday Times, in which a reporter posed as a wealthy banker trying to secure a place for his son.

The investigation claimed Mr Platt, a senior college fellow, agreed to create an extra place on a law course in return for a donation and hinted that similar deals had been struck in the past.

It said Mary-Jane Hilton, the college's chief fund-raiser, had suggested a figure of 300,000 for the donation.

Academic merit'

Oxford University's statement said: "Both agreed that they were acting without authority in connection with the matters referred to in The Sunday Times and for this reason the resignations which they offered were accepted."

This serves to underline Pembroke's commitment to the selection of students... solely on the basis of academic merit and potential

Master of Pembroke
Oxford vice-chancellor Dr Colin Lucas was asked on BBC Radio Four's Today programme whether the allegations were true.

He said: "I imagine they must be if they resigned."

"I don't think that the fundraisers of the university or the colleges should have anything to do at all with admissions. That is totally wrong," he said.

"Pembroke will certainly review its procedures and we will undoubtedly have appropriate conversations to review what has happened and look at what we are doing."

Giles Henderson, the master of Pembroke, confirmed the college was reviewing its procedures for admissions.

Laura Spence
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"The speed and decisiveness with which the college has acted on this serves to underline Pembroke's commitment to the selection of students being made solely on the basis of academic merit and potential," he said.

"The college will review its procedures for ensuring that all admissions decisions and business are conducted only by those personnel authorised to do so."

According to the Sunday Times Mr Platt advised paying the money through a secret trust to avoid leaks to the press.

It reports him as saying: "You must understand that this is absolutely confidential. If this story gets out, we'd all be blown away."

'Not clever enough'

Pembroke is known to be one of the poorest Oxford colleges despite being one of the oldest.

It is one of the biggest beneficiaries of a scheme whereby wealthier colleges subsidise poorer ones, a university spokeswoman has confirmed.

Three months ago Trinity College turned down the son of wealthy banker Philip Keevil, despite his father giving 100,000 to the college, because he was not clever enough.

And Magdalen College, Oxford, drew an accusation of elitism from the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, after it rejected comprehensive school pupil Laura Spence, who was later accepted by American Ivy League university Harvard.

The BBC's James Westhead reports from Oxford
"Oxford academia has been rocked by the news its prestigious education can be bought for cash"
Oxford University vice-chancellor Dr Colin Lucas
"Pembroke will certainly review its procedures"
See also:

12 Jul 01 | Education
Oxbridge tops wealth league
05 Jul 00 | Education
Oxford: Problem is state schools
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