University Admissions Bias Against Private Schools

08/10/2013 17:11 | Updated 08 December 2013

Over the next week, hundreds of aspiring Oxford and Cambridge University students will be submitting their UCAS applications. Their personal statements are hewn from thirteen years of hard work.

Understanding the significant value of a degree from these unique universities, everything hinges on the fairness of the admissions process. As a parent I would hope this would be meritocratic; based entirely on results, or assessment and performance at interview.

But this is not the case. Many institutions such as Durham have admitted making lower grade offers to pupils from poorer schools. The government's access watchdog obliges universities to set targets for state school pupils as a trade off for charging £9,000 tuition fees a year.

This has been an expensive price to pay. As the headmaster of Wellington College, Dr Seldon rightly points out this has created a bias against privately educated students. He calls it a "hatred that dare not speak its name".

Students with lower grades from poorer backgrounds leapfrog the admissions process and ideals of meritocracy - grabbing places with low grades ahead of those with an excellent academic record and results.

A decade ago, this type of behaviour led to a boycott of Bristol University by the private school sector. Its admissions systems was recruiting with a bias in favour of the state sector, penalising private school students for their efforts and achievements.

In 2012, Cambridge took its largest share of state sector students for 30 years - these pupils representing 63% of the intake. In a perverse twist of modern British thinking towards higher education, target driven admissions are as a measure of success.

This type of attitude is at the very essence of misguided social mobility policy - addressing the symptoms of poor education not the causes. Like some gruesome modern day Dr Frankenstein, Les Ebdon is effectively looking to meddle with the health plan of the patient after they have been moved to the mortuary.

Attacking the private school education sector as if it is the problem to be solved is entirely misguided.

I know many parents struggling to find the money to pay for private education that works. The state school system that is clearly broken.

Students have had thirteen years of education by the time they reach university. If they cannot get into university on their own merit at that point, we should be asking ourselves just what those thirteen years have been used for.

What are state schools doing if they fail to equip students to compete on a level playing field? Placing a bias and targets into the admissions process is to put a sticking plaster over a an ugly wound in the hope that no one will see what is wrong.

Admissions policy must be based on merit alone. Universities should remain centres of academic excellence. If you fail to meet the grade, you do not get in.

Katie is joining BBC Three Free Speech at 7pm on Wednesday in Cambridge to discuss this subject