Easier entries would be cruel, warns Cambridge

 

Cambridge University has put itself on a collision course with the Government over access to higher education for the poor, by dismissing the practice of lowering entry offers to students from disadvantaged backgrounds as a "cruel experiment".

Dr Geoff Parks, Cambridge's admissions tutor, warned in a newspaper interview that the university's standards were so high that giving places to students with less than top A-level results would risk "ruining people's lives".

He said: "It actually would be a really, really cruel experiment to take a bunch of students and hypothesise that they have what it takes to thrive at Cambridge and then see them fail because they don't."

His comments in The Sunday Telegraph – which Cambridge supported yesterday – come amid an increasing row over "social engineering' of university places. In an effort to expand access to higher education, David Willetts, the Universities minister, has backed the offering of places to students with slightly lower grades from under-performing state schools.

Offa, the universities admissions regulator, whose mission is to expand access to higher education, agrees targets with universities for admissions of state school pupils. If universities miss their targets, Offa has the "nuclear option" of withdrawing permission for them to charge more than £6,000 a year in fees.

Cambridge, the university with the third-best reputation in the world, according to a recent survey, draws 59 per cent of its intake from state schools – below Offa's target of 61 to 63 per cent. Across all UK higher education, the average is 89 per cent. Some leading universities – such as Bristol, Nottingham and Newcastle – allow tutors to make lower offers in certain circumstances. Research at Bristol suggests that state sixth-form pupils admitted with one grade lower than their counterparts from fee-paying schools perform just as well in their finals.

But Cambridge and other elite institutions in the 24-strong Russell Group dislike the practice. Dr Parks, admissions tutor at Cambridge for 10 years, said its research showed its current offers – typically grades of A* AA – were at the right level. He said: "We've very high standards within the university and we do fail students in exams."

Dr Parks, a lecturer in nuclear engineering at Jesus College, added: "None of us in good conscience want to be ruining people's lives on some gut feel or political imperative based around getting votes or pandering to some particular bit of the populace."

A spokesman for Cambridge University said Dr Parks had spoken for the university. The spokesman added: "It's tough at Cambridge and if you admit people who are less academically able, for whatever reason, they will struggle."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

AER Teachers: Early Years Teaching Assistant Newham

Negotiable: AER Teachers: Outstanding East London primary school seeking an Ea...

AER Teachers: Southwark primary School looking for teaching assistants

Negotiable: AER Teachers: Southwark primary School looking for teaching assist...

Royal College of Music: Assistant to the Deputy Director & the Director of Research

£24,451 - £27,061 per annum: Royal College of Music: The Royal College of Musi...

Guru Careers: Marketing Analyst / Optimisation Analyst

£35 - £45k DOE + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing / Optimisation Analyst is...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory