Excellence is our only prejudice;Letters;News amp; opinion

5th November 1999 at 00:00
I HOPE it is not presumptuous for me to reply to a letter from Oxford hopeful Nada Farhoud to the Prime Minister. As your caption to her photograph suggests, the problem that Oxford has in attracting more students from the state sector is one of image; but images do not always represent reality.

As a Head of House I can assure Ms Farhoud that no subject occupies more agenda time at my governing body than how to widen our constituency, which we conscientiously believe that we can do without lowering our academic standards or unfairly discriminating against any other educational sector.

We try via such means as our website and alternative prospectus (drafted by our students) to penetrate beneath the skin of the more formal and less user-friendly documents available to applicants.

We encourage visits on open days from all types of schools; we give placements to teachers in the summer vacation; we are participating in a local scheme to reach out to inner city children in Manchester; and, most importantly, we have given priority to fundraising scholarships from benefactors (the first of which are already on stream) to be used exclusively to assist students for whom the costs of Oxford (including Government-imposed tuition fees) appear to be too daunting.

I wholeheartedly agree that there is an information gap and a contact gap; but the statistics, somewhat dispiriting on their face, are deceptive since so many fine state schools chose as a result of previous government policies to go independent.

What is more, they certainly do not tell to Cambridge's advantage. In 1998 the success rate for maintained schools relative to that for independents was markedly better at Oxford than at Cambridge: and in 1999 such success rates at Oxford were better than in 1998 (44.5 per cent independent; 40.7 per cent maintained; 20.9 per cent others). Adverse bias in any conscious sense is, I assure Ms Farhoud, utterly lacking; our bias is only in favour of excellence (in terms of potential) and we are happy wherever and whenever we find it.

I hope Ms Farhoud wins her Oxford place; I'm only sorry that she isn't applying to us.

Michael J Beloff QC

President of Trinity College

Oxford University

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