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Thursday, 15 June, 2000, 10:55 GMT 11:55 UK
Peers condemn Oxford attack
Laura Spence and Magdalen College
At the centre of the row: Laura Spence and Magdalen College
Chancellor Gordon Brown's attack on Oxford University has been compared with the "cultural revolution in China ... spreading unease and damage which will take a lot to repair".

In a Lords debate on higher education, the current Chancellor of Oxford University, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, bitterly criticised Mr Brown for his comments on student admissions.

He said that "nearly every fact he used was false", and that he hoped Mr Brown was better briefed at the Treasury.


Lord Jenkins
Lord Jenkins: "Nearly every fact Mr Brown used was false"

Last month, Mr Brown sparked a huge row when he said it was an "absolute scandal" that Laura Spence, a pupil from a Tyneside comprehensive school, had failed to win a place at Magdalen College, Oxford, to read medicine.

Laura later went on to win a scholarship to study biochemistry at Harvard University in the United States.

Liberal Democrat Lord Jenkins, a former Cabinet Minister in the last Labour Government, said Mr Brown's speech about Laura had been a "little Blitzkrieg in being an act of sudden unprovoked aggression".

Old school tie

"But it was incomparably less well prepared and accurately carried out than the original Blitzkrieg 60 years ago this spring," he said.

"The target was singularly ill-chosen.

"It would be difficult to think of any group of academics to whom the designation old school tie, old boy network, was less representative than the medical examiners of Magdalen medical entrance exam.

"The historical event to which I think Mr Brown's enterprise more followed was the cultural revolution in China, designed not to achieve any practical result but just to stir things up for political purposes, to spread unease and to create damage which took a lot to repair.

"Nearly every fact he used was false. I only hope he was better briefed at dealing with Treasury matters.

"I think he must be, otherwise the economy would be in a worse state than it has been over the last three years.

"As a former occupant of his office I advise him not to do too many other ministers' jobs for them."

'Harmed Britain's image'

Other peers joined in the attack on Mr Brown during the debate.

Former Cabinet minister, Tory Baroness Young, said it had been "an ultimate disgrace to use a young girl, a sixth former in this way".

Baroness James of Holland Park, the Tory crime novelist PD James, said: "What I find particularly depressing about this is the clear message it sends of government animus towards Oxford."

Lord Butler of Brockwell, Master of University College, Oxford, said that one of the most irritating things about Mr Brown's attack was that it had "in some major respects made it harder rather than easier to get state school candidates into higher education".

And Lord Weidenfield, vice-president of the Oxford University development programme, said the admissions furore had "harmed Britain's image abroad".

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See also:

31 May 00 | Education
Hague stokes elitism row
28 May 00 | Education
Ministers plan anti-elitism campaign
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