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Commons education questions
Theresa May and Malcolm Wicks
 real 28k

Thursday, 8 June, 2000, 12:40 GMT 13:40 UK
University elitism 'scandal' resurfaces

An education minister has said the government is determined to end the "scandal" of state school pupils with top A-level grades not getting into the best UK universities.

"Too much of our good talent is being wasted," Malcolm Wicks said during education questions in the Commons.

He was goaded by the Conservative education spokesman, Theresa May, who challenged him to repeat the words used by the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, about the failure of a Tyneside comprehensive school pupil to get into Magdalen College, Oxford.

Theresa May
Theresa May: Challenge
Mr Wicks had said that no-one in government was complacent about the relative under-representation of students from ethnic minorities in universities.

Mrs May said Magdalen had offered places to three ethnic minority students "in preference to other applicants".

Among the others was Laura Spence, subsequently offered a Harvard scholarship.

"Will the minister repeat the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that this was 'an absolute scandal'?" she said.

Mr Wicks said ministers were determined that every young person should have an equal chance of getting into the best universities, "whatever their socio-economic status".

"At the moment many of our children who are going to get top A-levels do not have that equal chance.

"It is a scandal that we have that inequality," he said.

The difference between the government and the opposition was that the opposition were concerned with the elite, the government with all children.

Medical college places

Mrs May also accused the government of seeking to have doctors trained on the basis of "political correctness" rather than academic merit.

She said the government wanted places at medical colleges to be "ring fenced" for students from poor backgrounds. Did this mean standards would drop?

Mrs May was referring to a report that sixth formers from deprived areas will be selected and offered special help under plans centred on King's College, London.

Mr Wicks said there would be high quality places for all - whether they came from private or state schools - under the government's planned expansion of higher education.

He did not refer to the specific project. An announcement about that is expected from the Higher Education Funding Council for England towards the end of next week.

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See also:

26 May 00 | Education
Chancellor attacks Oxford admissions
06 Jun 00 | Education
Academic blames colleges for elitism
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