Bias against Oxbridge

31st October 2003 at 00:00
Elfi Pallis ("Oxbridge still blocks state school pupils", TES October 17) calls for the imposition of a quota of working-class students on Oxbridge and states that only a threat of legislation "compelled the two universities to accept Jews and Catholics, dissenters and women."

This is wrong: religious discrimination was imposed on universities by government through anti-Catholic and dissenter legislation of the late 17th century. The universities did not "discriminate" against either Jews or women.

Furthermore, reform was instigated by universities themselves. At Cambridge, dons such as Leslie Stephen (father of Virginia Woolf) and Henry Sidgwick led a movement against religious tests. Sidgwick was also a pioneer of higher education for women at Cambridge, leading to the founding of Girton College. .

Pallis's suggestion that using A-levels as an entrance requirement was forced upon recalcitrant universities does not stand examination; in my time at Oxford (the Sixties) students were often admitted on the basis of entrance scholarships, and so by-passed A-level, as the work required was of a higher standard. It is the present reliance on the A-level which is causing problems in sifting out the best.

One does wish that writers such as Pallis - who shows the usual anti-Oxford, anti-private school bias - checked up on basic historical facts! The huge, unpalatable fact that she leaves out is that the comprehensive revolution has left state schools and working class children unable to compete on equal terms with private schools - which, again, was not the situation in my youth.

Nigel Probert 15B South Snowdon Wharf Porthmadog

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