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Wednesday, 5 July, 2000, 16:09 GMT 17:09 UK
Oxford: Problem is state schools
Oxford
Oxford says it will need £1m a year to widen access
State schools are the biggest obstacles to encouraging more of their pupils to gain places at Oxford University, says the university's head.

Addressing the House of Commons education select committee, Colin Lucas said the university made efforts to widen access, but state schools and their pupils were often held back by their own pre-conceptions.

"The biggest single obstacle is the attitude of pupils from state schools and the schools themselves who believe that Oxford isn't right for their pupils," the vice-chancellor told the cross-party committee of MPs.
Colin Lucas
Colin Lucas says the university is not taken in by "smart alec" applicants
The university was working to counter that - but needed another £1m a year if it was going to introduce further measures to attract more applications from state school pupils.

He agreed that the historic college buildings might well look "peculiar" to children from cities such as Manchester, and said Oxford still had work to do to "de-mystify" itself.

Dr Lucas rejected suggestions that the admissions process favoured confident, smooth-talking public school pupils.

"When you set about choosing somebody to teach, you don't really want a quick-tongued smart alec, you want somebody interesting and exciting to teach," he said.

But he admitted that only 450 out of 800 admissions tutors had received training in selecting candidates.

Laura Spence

Concern over Oxford University's admissions process was sparked by the case of Laura Spence, a state school pupil rejected by Oxford, who received a scholarship to Harvard University in the United States.

And the case again caused controversy within the select committee, when chairman Barry Sheerman refused to allow discussion of specific individuals, including Laura Spence.

Conservative MP Nick St Aubyn attacked this block on debate as being inspired by party political interests rather than impartial chairmanship.

"The idea that we should skirt around entirely the incident which sparked this strand of our inquiry is frankly ludicrous," he said.

"The way this was handled did great damage to the reputation of the committee and to the standing of our chairman."

Barry Sheerman rejected the accusation, saying that it was a "political stunt".

"As chairman of the committee, I know that the committee agreed not to consider the Laura Spence case in particular because of the stress the young woman had been under."

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30 Jun 00 | UK Education
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