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The BBC's Carolyn Quinn
"The Chancellor appears unrepentant about his assault on elitism"
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The BBC's Carolyn Quinn
"Equality of opportunity is an economic necessity"
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Saturday, 3 June, 2000, 16:11 GMT 17:11 UK
Warring parties clash over elitism

Gordon Brown remains defiant over "opportunity for all"
The gloves are off in a new round of cross party bickering over university elitism.

Chancellor Gordon Brown reignited the university class war row with warnings that entrance discrimination by the likes of Oxford could threaten Britain's economy.

Mr Brown's comments in a Times newspaper interview prompted accusations that he was chasing cheap political headlines.

Only panic can explain their decision last week to retreat into the envy ridden class politics of a by-gone age

Michael Portillo

The Tories also accused Baroness Jay of making out she was from a grammar school when she attended Blackheath High School, which has never been part of the state system.

Shadow education secretary Theresa May said: "Sadly education has been in the news not from a desire to raise standards.

"It has come from an ill-informed, ill-judged and irresponsible attack on one our leading universities from the Chancellor of the Exchequer."

She said Baroness Jay's comments during an interview with ITV's Jonathan Dimbleby had been an attempt to deceive the public about her educational past.

"This was a deliberate attempt to con the British public, on live television, into making them think she is something she is not," she said.

American model

Mr Brown sparked the controversy last week when he branded Oxford University an absolute disgrace for refusing to offer a place to a talented student from a state-funded school.

In the Times article on Saturday, he stood by his remarks and said equality of opportunity was an economic necessity.

"I am determined to continue to argue in favour of equality of opportunity against those who defend an indefensible status quo," he said.

Michael Portillo accuses Labour of panic politics

"Economies that do not bring out the best in people will ossify and fall behind."

Mr Brown pointed to the US education system as the model to follow.

Heavyweights from both sides of the House of Commons and top universities have waded into the debate.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and Education Secretary David Blunkett have come out to back Mr Brown's attack on university elitism.

Mr Prescott urged the country's northern colleges to do more to attract people of ability regardless of their backgrounds.

Mr Cook launched a drive to encourage students outside top universities Oxford and Cambridge to apply for posts working for the government.

Class war

Shadow Chancellor Michael Portillo accused the government of sullying the reputation of world-class universities and waging a class war.

"Only panic can explain their decision last week to retreat into the envy ridden class politics of a by-gone age, using the case of an individual schoolgirl to score political points and sully the reputation of world class British universities," he said.

Angry Oxford University officials rebuked Brown and other government officials for talking nonsense, telling him to get his facts straight before commenting.

But Mr Brown said a new report on the country's education system by the Sutton Trust supported his argument that Britain's top universities were taking proportionally more students from private fee-paying schools than the state sector.

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See also:

03 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Baroness 'lied' about schooling
02 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Prescott re-ignites universities row
31 May 00 | Education
Hague stokes elitism row
26 May 00 | UK Politics
Labour's 'class war' over Oxbridge
02 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Portillo joins elitist row
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