I'm no toff, but I'd prefer a pro-Oxbridge bias

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The Independent Online

Educationists were celebrating last week after the announcement by a leading law firm that it will alter its recruitment process to eliminate what it calls its own "pro-Oxbridge bias". Clifford Chance, one of the most prestigious firms in Britain, promises to make final interviews "CV blind", meaning that interviewers will not know which schools or universities applicants attended. It is a move presumably designed to placate left-leaning meritocratists just like me. But I'm furious about it.

First, let me come clean: I have a degree from Cambridge University. But that doesn't mean that I'm a privileged toff. I know now that there are schools in Britain from which almost every student is expected to apply to Oxford or Cambridge – but mine was not one of them. I went to a school from which almost every student was expected to apply for a job in the local chewing gum factory. I was not expected to apply to Cambridge, still less to be offered a place.

When I did, it was not because I had contacts at my grandfather's alma mater, or because my school coached students through the application process. I certainly did not stride into my interview full of confidence after a lifetime of chatting to daunting academics in Gothic buildings. It wasn't even because I am a born genius. I achieved a place at Cambridge by working my socks off, and I think prospective employers should know that about me. Now, apparently, I would not be allowed to tell them.

I think that I understand the reasoning behind Clifford Chance's decision, and I believe that the lawyers' hearts are in the right place. They've noticed that too many of their staff are just the same: white, middle-class, well-connected, and public-school educated. They'd like to increase the variety of backgrounds within their workforce because doing so would make them better as a company. Great idea! But when they look at each other and try to pinpoint what exactly it is that they all have in common, do they really think it's that they all went to Oxbridge? Might it not be because they're all, well, privileged?

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against toffs; some of the people I most admire went to expensive schools. Nor do I assume that an Oxbridge degree is proof of being clever. I agree that top universities need to make greater efforts to seek out students from less privileged backgrounds, which is why I worked on Cambridge's "Target Schools" campaign while I studied there. But if our "best" universities are not offering their best educations to all bright students equally, then employers need to pressure them to fix that; not just refuse to be biased towards the best.

It is a fact that a self-selecting group of people from a narrow, fortune-favoured background dominate the Government and the nation's top jobs, and I'll support anything that tries to shift that. That's why people who make it into top universities despite their backgrounds, should be snapped up. Let them plaster it all over their CVs, then. Tell employers and say it loud: Oxbridge, and proud.