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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 8 April, 2003, 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK
Oxbridge told to lose 'Brideshead' image
Magdalen College, Oxford
Oxbridge is seen as too old-fashioned, says Charles Clarke
Oxford and Cambridge need to lose their "Brideshead Revisited" image to attract a wider variety of students, Education Secretary Charles Clarke has said.

Many applicants had been put off by the universities' upper-middle-class image, he added.

Mr Clarke was speaking at the unveiling of the new Office for Fair Access (Offa), which aims to widen participation in higher education.

This will require universities to sign five-year "access agreements" before they can charge more than the current maximum 1,100 a year in tuition fees.

'Not appropriate'

Mr Clarke said: "I think Oxford and Cambridge should specifically be looking to a modern image of themselves, applying to the best and most talented people, irrespective of social class.

"To that extent, the Brideshead Revisited image which Oxbridge sometimes transmits isn't appropriate for that modern age.

"To the extent that that is the image, it shouldn't be the image."

In 2002, Cambridge selected 56% of its UK undergraduate intake from the state sector. For Oxford the figure was 54%.

Under their Offa agreements, universities will have to say how they will increase the value and amounts of bursaries and grants they offer to students from poor families.

They will also have to show they are encouraging state school pupils to consider applying through staging events such as summer schools and master classes.

'Not deliberate'

Mr Clarke said: "Some universities appear - and this is anecdotal more than anything else - to send the message that only certain types of people are welcome.

"I think it's never a deliberate message but I think it can be a message that universities send out which they need to look at."

He said 35% of students who got three As at A-level did not apply to the elite universities and needed to know the "entire range of universities are for them".

Richard Partington, chairman of the access committee at Cambridge University, said: "We are conscious that we need to make sure the image we project is representative of the university.

"A Brideshead image is not representative. We have been making real progress towards a more modern image.

"The best way we can do this is by more face-to-face contact with young people."

Last year, Cambridge colleges were visited by 2,000 pupils, aged 14 to 15.

Another 10,500 attended conferences organised around the UK.

Mr Partington added: "The image we seem to have is not reflected by reality.

"We need to make sure fight these misconceptions. It's something that's going to take a long time."

An Oxford University spokesman added: "The reality of studying here is very different from the image that some people still have of us.

"That is why we are working very hard to demonstrate why this is the right place for the best and brightest pupils, whatever their background."

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