Oxbridge 'to miss targets' for admitting state pupils

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The Independent Online

Oxford and Cambridge Universities will fail to meet the deadlines for their pledges to increase significantly their intake of state school pupils, according to a study published today.

Both universities agreed with the Government's Office for Fair Access (OFFA) to reduce the proportion of independent school pupils they admitted in the next five years. Oxford vowed it would take 62 per cent of its pupils from state schools by 2011, compared with the current figure of 54 per cent; Cambridge agreed to improve its proportion by the same date from 57 per cent to between 60 and 63 per cent.

However, the study by the left-leaning Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) – published on the closing date for this year's Oxbridge applications – found Oxford is likely to miss its target by five years, and Cambridge will not hit its until 2012.

Lisa Harker, co-director of the IPPR, said: "Students getting three A grade A-levels at state schools are significantly under-represented at both universities."

Oxford's benchmark would force it to admit an extra 270 state school students a year. Mike Nicholson, Director of Undergraduate Admissions, said the IPPR report's "fundamental flaw" was "in assuming that three As alone equates to an Oxford place." A statement from Cambridge University said the IPPR analysis was "disappointing and lop-sided".

"Cambridge cannot admit students who do not apply... or students discouraged by their teachers from applying," it added.

The universities initially agreed the targets in exchange for permission to charge the maximum top-up fee of £3,000 a year. Last week, John Denham, the Secretary of State for Universities, said he wanted the question of widening participation from students from disadvantaged backgrounds "settled" before any decision – due in 2009 – was taken on whether to lift the cap on top-up fees.

Gordon Brown is known for his dislike of university elitism. In 2000, he savaged Magdalen College, Oxford, when it refused to admit Laura Spence, a North Tyneside comprehensive schoolgirl, despite her being expected to obtain five A grade passes at A-level.

The IPPR's report coincides with a major inquiry into degree qualifications which is expected to recommend that the present system is not "fit for purpose" because too many students now obtain 2:1s or firsts from universities.