Oxford academics quit after claims they gave college place in return for donation

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Two Oxford University academics at the centre of a cash-for-places row resigned last night after being accused of trying to help secure a place for a student in return for cash donations to their college.

The Rev John Platt and Mary-Jane Hilton, both fellows at Pembroke College, will leave with "immediate effect".

In a statement last night, the university said that both members of staff agreed they "were acting without authority" in their dealings with a man they believed to be a wealthy banker. He was in fact an undercover reporter who was allegedly told an extra place on a law degree course could be created in return for a donation. In a taped conversation, Mr Platt allegedly revealed that similar deals had been struck in the past.

Giles Henderson, the master of Pembroke ­ one of the university's oldest but less well-endowed colleges ­ said last night: "The speed and decisiveness with which the college has acted on this serves to underline Pembroke's commitment to the selection of students being made solely on the basis of academic merit and potential."

He said the college would review its procedures over admissions and business dealings. But the claims prompted calls for Oxford and Cambridge to separate fund-raising and admissions by moving to a single, centralised admissions department and replacing the collegiate admissions system.

Dr Colin Lucas, the university vice-chancellor, said he was "appalled" by the allegations. "Such action would contravene all the principles on which our admissions process is based," he said.

A transcript of the interview in The Sunday Times shows that Mr Platt admitted that Pembroke students had been allowed in before on the strength of a donation. "If you're going to keep it absolutely, totally confidential, the answer is: in the past it has been done. OK?" he is reported to have said.

Mr Platt said the banker's son would be required to get good grades, such as two As and a B, and would have to be capable of getting at least a 2:1 degree in order for the application to be accepted.

Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, who is an Oxford graduate, said: "These are serious allegations. The university and colleges need to make it absolutely clear to prospective donors that there will be no link between the gift and admissions. This practice is common in the United States but must not be allowed to appear to taint our merit-based admissions system."