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Commons Ed Select Committee Chair Barry Sheerman
and Liberal Democrat Dr Evan Harris MP
 real 28k

Friday, 26 May, 2000, 16:11 GMT 17:11 UK
Labour's 'class war' over Oxbridge

Brown: The young must have equality of opportunity
The Conservatives have accused Labour of indulging in "class war" politics after Chancellor Gordon Brown stepped into the university admissions row.

The Shadow Social Security Secretary, David Willetts, said Labour had been wrong to criticise Oxford University as elitist.

But the chancellor is standing by the remarks he made on Thursday when he called Oxford's decision to reject a highly qualified comprehensive school pupil as "an absolute scandal".

And the decision of the chair of the Commons Education Committee to investigate the issue has also drawn fire, with one member saying the committee had become Labour's "pawn."

On Friday, Mr Brown refused to retract his remarks, saying young people need to know that admissions procedures for institutions of higher education are fair after comprehensive school student Laura Spence was turned down.

Labour 'worried'

The student, who has 10 A* grade GSCEs, has since won a scholarship to Harvard University in the US.

Mr Willetts said: "Labour went into political cabinet yesterday, they were worried because of the progress William Hague has been making on issues such as law and order and pensioners, and when they are in trouble they go back to class war," he said

"He [Gordon Brown] is trying to distract attention from the fact that the government is not delivering on the big picture, on health, education, pensions.

"It's pretty desperate stuff really."

'Scandal'

Liberal Democrat higher education spokesman Evan Harris, himself an Oxford medical graduate from a state school, blamed Labour's decision to require students to pay tuition fees for the low proportion of state school pupils going to university.

But Education Secretary David Blunkett supported Mr Brown's comments.

"Youngsters who do well from whatever background should have the same opportunity and access to the highest possible quality education," he told the BBC.



The education committee is to investigate
"I think it's a scandal that a child has to go to Harvard rather than being able to get into Oxford."

Barry Sheerman, chairman of the Education Select Committee, said it already had an ongoing inquiry into higher education, which started in January.

He said the United States put much more effort into recruiting students from "traditional comprehensives", adding: "In the US they look at postcodes, they look at the real social class distribution of the students coming in, and they do something about it."

But Tory MP Stephen O'Brien, a member of the Education Select Committee said : "This is the first I have heard of this. I am surprised the chairman of the select committee has decided this without consulting the members.

"He appears to be turning the committee into a pawn of Gordon Brown."

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26 May 00 | UK Politics
Seeking Brownie points
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