Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Oxford digs deeper to seek out the best students

The Observer By Anushka Asthana

Oxford University is refining its admissions policy in an attempt to discover more academically bright pupils who are attending poor-performing schools.

For the first time, professors will have detailed information that allows them to compare the quality of schools before candidates are offered places. ...

The aim is to help professors differentiate between pupils who achieved top grades at strong state schools, where they had lots of academic support, small class sizes and training on how to apply, and those who reached the same level with no such advantage.

It is part of a wider drive among universities to select 'high potential' pupils from less affluent backgrounds. ...

[Mike Nicholson, Oxford's director of undergraduate admissions] said Oxford had a 'conscious obligation' to seek out the best students regardless of background, and the new information on schooling would be one factor that could help them. 'Potential is very difficult to measure,' he said. 'But we are keen not to just look at [students'] existing performance but how they could do over three years. A student who is in an environment with a lot of support will be well prepared. Where a student has less support, we need to factor that in.'...

However, critics warned that universities should not use 'social engineering' to try to manipulate the figures. Some fear that Oxford will use the details about educational background to discriminate against pupils at the best schools. ...But others said the worries were unfounded. 'We are talking about a university that still gives 50 per cent of places to pupils from public [in American parlance, private] schools; that is hardly discriminating,' said Sam Freedman, head of research at the Independent Schools Council.

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