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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 August, 2004, 08:27 GMT 09:27 UK
Laura Spence urges students to US
Laura Spence
Laura Spence's situation provoked a political row
Laura Spence, the state school pupil rejected by Oxford four years ago despite being predicted straight A grades, has told others to follow her and study in the US.

Having just graduated from Harvard University, she said help was available with annual fees of 20,000 which might seem "astronomically prohibitive".

Ms Spence, from Tyneside, told the Times Higher Education Supplement that US degrees were "more balanced" than those in the UK.

In 2000, Chancellor Gordon Brown became involved in the row over her denial of a place at Magdalen College, calling it an "absolute disgrace".

'Old school tie'

He blamed elitism, which he claimed was entrenched in the Oxford admissions system.

It was, he added, "more reminiscent of the old-boy network and the old school tie than genuine justice in our society".

But an inquiry by the Commons education select committee found no evidence of this.

In 2001, Ms Spence said Oxford had been right to refuse her, on the basis of her college interview.

Speaking prior to her return from Harvard, where she won a scholarship, Ms Spence said she would continue her medical studies in the UK.

But did not reveal which university she was going to.

She added: "The US-style 'liberal arts' education requires that each student learns a broader, more balanced curriculum while still achieving depth in their specialist subject.

"Unlike the more focused, professionally oriented UK degrees, this style of education is particularly suitable for students who don't want to limit themselves to specific career paths straight out of high school."

Ms Spence's remarks come as the Fulbright Commission - which offers advice and scholarships for UK students interested in studying in the US - said it had received a 400% increase in inquiries since 2002.

It had handled 20,000 requests for information in June this year alone.

We asked for your comments on study abroad. Here are some of your responses:

I have been offered a place at Oxford starting in September - and I have been a state school pupil all my life (with both my parents from working-class backgrounds). I know hundreds of people who are all predicted straight As, had plenty of extra-curricular activities and were still rejected. The reality is that there are more people applying than there are spaces, they all have straight As, and some will have to be rejected. People should just get over it and stop making a fuss.
Beth, Farnborough, UK

One thing to bear in mind is recognition of non-EU degrees within the EU. In Spain, for example, recognition of British degrees takes several years, without mentioning non-EU qualifications.
Dr Carl McBride, Spain

I think no places should be offered before a student has the results they need. Too much emphasis is put on predicted results, which can be biased or inaccurate. This means that most places are full by the end of the year.

If you actually achieve better than predicted results, you could be deprived of a place that someone who has not achieved the results, but was offered a place on predicted results, has taken. Often the person who hasn't achieved the results is still allowed to take up their place.

It is easier to get a place on predicted results than to actually get a place on actual results when all the places are gone. I think it's time to change things for the better.
Lesley, London, UK

Perhaps the public school students are simply better than those from state schools. If so, should Oxbridge deliberately select the student from the state school for public image and deny a better student the opportunity of studying there?
Ken Thompson, London

I'm applying to Oxbridge next year and haven't had the "luxury" of a public school education. Even so, I believe that government guidelines for Oxbridge stating how many applicants from state schools should be admitted or offered places are pointless and restrictive - why take in fewer people from public schools if they are of a higher standard than those from state schools? They rely on the interview process as much as predicted grades to admit people, and with so many of the applicants gaining straight As, it comes down to which candidate is enthusiastic and able to fit in to the Oxbridge learning "style" than who has the extra A grade.
Joel, Cheltenham, UK

You don't need to go all the way to the US for a broad degree - several UK universities (admittedly not as "prestigious" as, say, Oxbridge or Harvard) offer dual / joint honours degrees.
Ian, Cambridge, UK

Anyone thinking of studying in the US with their "broader liberal arts" degrees is insane. A broader degree is just a waste of more money and time on teaching that will serve no purpose. If you know what you want to do and go to university, why be taught irrelevant things? We have enough of that in comprehensive schools.
Dave, London

Are Oxford and Cambridge elitist? I hope so - if by that it is meant they take the best students who apply. The fact that a state school student with straight As was rejected in favour of other straight-A students says nothing about the process.
Michael, Cambs

In 1995, I was lucky enough to win a national scholarship to study at Vassar College in New York for one academic year. I can safely say that it was the most brilliant experience I have had so far in my life. I certainly appreciated the balanced and thought-provoking "liberal arts" education that I received, and living in the USA dispelled many of the negative myths and stereotypes that I previously had of Americans.

The education I received at a Vassar was a wonderful complement to my British degree, and I am certain that my American experiences enriched me and have made me a much better person.
Chris, London, UK

While at university I won a scholarship to study in the USA. Though it was fantastic experience and I loved every minute of it, I realised that the only reason that it takes so long and is "broader" is because the universities want to get as much money as possible out of the students. If you then go on to graduate school for law or medicine it can take another three years. Therefore students may come out with over a $100,000 of debt and be over 25.
Jehan Emambux, Camberley, Surrey

Oxford was right, says Laura
17 Jul 01  |  Education
UK students consider US colleges
17 May 01  |  Education
Laura Spence don blames families
25 Apr 01  |  Education

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