They always have done, haven’t they?

Oxford University will offer places with lower grades to students from disadvantaged backgrounds for the first time in its 900 year history.

The radical scheme marks a “sea change” in the university’s admissions process. However it comes amid criticism from middle-class Oxford rejects and headteachers that private school students are being “squeezed out” by the University’s current diversity drive.

From 2020, 250 state-school students will receive free tuition and accommodation as part of a multi-million-pound recruitment bid for disadvantaged students.

However 50 students in the new intake – who will include refugees and young carers – will be eligible to receive offers “made on the basis of lower contextual A-level grades, rather than the university’s standard offers”.

Umm, isn’t it colleges who let people in? And offers have always been made upon more than just grades.

How else did the daughter of the Observer’s literary critic get in?

16 thoughts on “They always have done, haven’t they?”

  1. Bollocks it’s the first time. My Oxford college accepted someone from a disadvantaged background to study Classics in 1999 on reduced grades. It was a great feat for him to study Latin A-Level at his comp to the level he did, but I don’t think he even lasted the first year.

  2. @”Bollocks it’s the first time. My Oxford college accepted someone from a disadvantaged background to study Classics in 1999 on reduced grades. It was a great feat for him to study Latin A-Level at his comp to the level he did, but I don’t think he even lasted the first year.”
    Polly Toynbee got one A level and went to Oxford although she was not from a disadvantage background

  3. Yup, colleges not university. At my college (Cambridge, not Oxford but by all accounts admissions policies are an excellent example of convergent evolution) the only offer ever given was AAA, but a candidate who had made it to that standard the “hard way” was given more lenience in interviews and thus was more likely to be made an offer than one who had done it the “easy way” In the end, it’s about who the college faculty want to teach for the next 3 years, and that will normally be the brightest and best, regardless of where they came from.*

    There’s a lot of effort both at college and university level to encourage applications from comps. The “Oxbridge is just for toffs” line that the BBC keeps splunking out is so annoying because one “news” bulletin can undo years of work.

    * Acedemics are human beings too. Mostly. So the opportunity to curry favour might

  4. I went to a paid school and then to Oxford to read Mathematics. My offer was AAB, needing an A in Maths and Further Maths and a B in Physics or Chemistry. A guy who went in the same year I did went to a comprehensive and was offered A – yes, one A – that being in Maths. I came out with 5 A grades at A-level (if you count General Studies) and he came out with an A and two U grades (or were they E? Can’t remember). I got a 2:2; he got a First and went on to become an Associate Professor at Stonybrook University and goes speaking at Princeton on occasion – here he is in action:

    It really is nothing new. The college system functions as an internal market. University-level distortions will make no difference to the better colleges such as Christ Church, Trinity, Magdalen, Jesus and the others at the top of the Norrington Table, who will carry on regardless. It will be Harris Manchester, Greyfriars, St. Hilda’s and the like.

  5. I once admitted a candidate partly because her headmaster had explained that her exam year at school had started with her mother being diagnosed with terminal cancer and her father abandoning the family. The lass had then had to run the household.

    I don’t object to the academics who are going to teach the admitted candidates making allowance for individual circumstances. In fact I would think it odd if they didn’t. I do object to their being instructed by others to do favours to candidates on sociological grounds – which will soon become political grounds.

    As for the A levels demanded: I know a chap who would ask for only AAB if the candidate had really impressed in interview and entrance “test”. His argument was that it would be absurd to lose a star just because of one bad morning in an A-level examination hall. He said he thought it would be a particularly good strategy for girls or for candidates prone to hay fever. As he said, he could diagnose only the first of those, and anyway hay fever can bugger up your university exams too.

  6. Anyway, the real fun will begin when the charmed youth start to bugger up their foundation year. Or when they get through the foundation year but bugger up in their degree years. What then? Because I’ll bet my bottom dollar that nobody will say “that was a dud idea, let’s scrap it”.

    By the way, who is going to be paying for this extra year?

  7. And lastly, who is going to teach this foundation year? Maybe all the right-on lecturers and fellows can be told to put their money where their mouth is. Maybe.

    I know, let the College masters who agreed the scheme do the teaching. That must be the plan, eh?

  8. Bright kids who can cut it should be able to get in based on merit and screw the rest of it.

    We need to return to the grants system.

    As for those who haven’t cut it –they would do better with the Net etc for non-hefty courses. Anyone can memorise history, grammar etc–maths/real science would be hard to do alone. Wasn’t that what the Open Uni was for?

    The big Unis would be better perhaps arranging some tutoring for difficult topics to help those who can’t make it in but might have promise.

    Academic bullshit is far from all. Remember that Adam Hart-Davis ( leftist remainiac creep that he is) on his bike on that “Local Heros ” TV show about loads of very clever British folk with humble origins who strove with little help and changed the world by inventing real progress –not the shite proggie version.

  9. Polly Toynbee got one A level and went to Oxford although she was not from a disadvantage background

    Unless you count being thick as pigshit

  10. @dearieme May 21, 2019 at 1:04 pm

    Hayfever and exams – itchy eyes and runny nose had a negative impact on my grades. It’s not only the exam, revision impacted too

    Due to this I worked really hard for December pre-lims – received an A based on pre-lim for exam I was unable to sit.


    Adam Hart-Davis – liked his hands-on approach; why did he vanish? Anti Global Warming like Ball & Belamy?

  11. @ Tim
    Not always – a thousand years ago they took poor students (actually they only took poor students) but there were no ‘A’ level grades to compare,
    My old college was set up to educate poor scholars well over 700 years ago.
    Interestingly the “new initiative” trumpeted by the new Vice-Chancellor is mostly just, or falls a bit short of, what it has been doing for several years – 100% bursaries covering tuition and maintenance fees (which *includes* but is *not* limited to accommodation) for poor students.
    The proposal looks as if it’s asking to be gamed by the likes of David Miliband who got in because his school had lower-than-average ‘A’ level grades.

  12. @ Matt and Rob Moss
    Back in the dark ages, we had entrance exams so we didn’t rely wholly on ‘A’ level results [just as well: the municipally-owned water company gave the whole school dysentry during my ‘A’ level exam so I got a worse result in ‘A’ levels than ‘S’ levels (by which time I had mostly recovered)]
    @ Rob Moss
    Isn’t it Merton at the top of the Norrington Table? It was in my time with Christ Church an “also ran” at best: Wadham and, of course, Balliol featured

  13. @ dearieme & Rob Moss
    Totally agree that Admission Tutors should look at the candidate’s ‘A’ level results in context and pick those best able to benefit from an Oxford education (who are usually the brightest).
    I know that I was privileged (most of my privilege was inheriting a second-class copy of my father’s brains) so I want to give the poorer guys an even break, but not to the extent that poor boys who get a scholarship to public school are automatically disqualified from going to Oxbridge

  14. Just for fun, I had a peek at the current Norrington.
    If someone had told me that was the table in the early 70s when I was there, it would have held no surprises – the old, traditional colleges dominate the top places. What has changed is that almost 50% now get a first, when in my day it was more like 15%.

  15. @Chris Miller

    Re grade inflation, I was at an event at Oxford’s geography department recently and they still had some posters up, presumably from a sixth form open day, proclaiming that one of the best reasons to study geography was that 98% get a 2:1 or above, “more than for any other subject at Oxford”…

    I’m not convinced the quality of their intake is so much better, indeed the same changes seem to be taking place across all UK universities. But it’s odd to think that competition to be the place (or department) with the best grades might be driving it. As a sixth former I don’t think I would have even considered the possibility of comparing uni grades to pick the “easiest” university or course. And in terms of interdepartmental or institutional prestige, who wants to be known as the softest marker?

  16. @ Chris Miller
    16% (one-sixth got firsts, two-thirds secobds and one-sixth thirds) – but that was just in Maths so the overall percentage was probably smaller (as mathematical ability gets spotted early on the guys get directed into academic streams including some polymaths who get encouraged to do Maths so competition for Maths places are fiercer – in my year all those in my college taking engineering were guys who couldn’t get a place to read Maths).
    It is just not credible that the number of people capable of getting a first has trebled in fifty years. [The creation of unisex or bisexual colleges shouldn’t make any noticeable difference to the number of Maths Firsts as, in my year, the women got a lower average result in Finals although they should have been la creme de la creme de la creme instead of just la creme de la creme.]
    @ MBE As a sixth-former it never occured to me to apply to the “easiest” universities (or colleges – I put Magdalen as second choice if I didn’t get into my first choice …) but a lot of “new universities” are looking for “bums on seats” to pay their salaries not interdepartmental prestige.

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