Oxford 'is not a social security office'

Chancellor of university rejects government plan to attract more state pupils
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The Independent Online

Oxford University should not be treated by the Government as "a social security office" to widen participation in higher education among disadvantaged pupils from state schools, its chancellor said yesterday. Oxford had "no chance" of increasing state school admissions to meet targets so long as the gap in exam performance existed, Lord Patten of Barnes told the annual meeting of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC).

Research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development showed the gap in performance between Britain's private and state schools was the widest in the Western world, he said, adding: "The sense that many universities have is that they are being asked to make up for the deficiencies of secondary education. If this were the aim, it would be a fool's mission."Latest figures show that 53 per cent of Oxford's student intake is from state schools. The target is to raise this to 62 per cent by the end of the decade.

Lord Patten's comments were coupled with a plea to charge middle-class parents more for a child's university tuition by lifting the current fees cap of £3,140 per annum. "It is surely a mad world in which parents or grandparents are prepared to shell out tens of thousands to put their children through private schools to get them into universities and then to object to them paying a tuition fee of more than £3,000," he said. His long-term preference would be for no cap at all, which could lead to universities charging up to £20,000 for some courses.

The chancellor's remarks coincided with a study for the HMC, carried out by Buckingham University's Centre for Education and Employment, which showed that independent schools were concentrating on "hard" A-level subjects such as further maths, rather than "soft" ones like media studies and psychology – which are more popular in comprehensive schools. The study's authors said: "Independent schools have above-average A-level entries in further maths, physics, French, economics and classics, while comprehensives have above average entries in sports studies, media studies, law, psychology and sociology."

The Schools minister, Lord Adonis, also addressed the conference, insisting there was plenty of teaching of the "harder" subjects at state schools.