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Last Updated: Monday, 3 December 2007, 13:07 GMT
Oxbridge shuns academies project
Oxford University
Oxford and Cambridge will not sponsor academies
Oxford and Cambridge universities are snubbing the government's flagship academy schools project.

The government is urging universities to use their academic resources to support academies as part of the drive to raise standards in deprived areas.

But the two famous universities have declined to commit themselves to sponsor an academy.

Oxford University says it would rather have a "national role" than supporting an individual school.

This autumn the Universities Secretary, John Denham, urged universities to take an active role in secondary education by sponsoring an academy - with 20 universities already signed up.

In particular, he highlighted the importance of such projects for universities which have an intake of wealthier students.

Only 54% of students at Oxford University and 57% of students at Cambridge are drawn from state schools.

"It is clear that the universities that recruit the vast majority of students from a small minority of society are missing out on a huge amount of talent," said Mr Denham.

Widening participation

The academy scheme, setting up "independent state schools" in disadvantaged areas, has been put forward by Mr Denham as a way for universities to build a bridge to these communities.

But Oxford University has so far not accepted the idea of sponsoring an academy.

In a statement it says: "Oxford attracts able students from all across the country and we feel that it is important that our access work broadly reflects this national role."

Cambridge University also stresses its commitment to a "national role" for helping to widen participation - and says that if it sponsored a school it could be seen as a feeder school, which would distort the local schools market.

A statement from the university says that "significant involvement in an academy could lead to a conflict of interest”.

However a university spokesman emphasised Cambridge's commitment to the principle of widening participation - saying that the university spent £3m per year on such projects.

Oxford and Cambridge have faced criticism this year for drawing too many students from a small group of schools.

A report from the Sutton Trust education charity said that 100 schools accounted for a third of Oxbridge admissions - and that 80% of these were from the private sector.

Last week the Independent Schools Council published figures showing that the acceptance rate for private school pupils applying to prestigious Russell Group universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, had risen to 65.6%.

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