Baroness Kennedy has accused dons at the UK’s most prestigious universities of being obsessed with traditions and “mad pecking orders”, writes Graeme Paton at the Telegraph.
The QC, who was elected a head of Mansfield College earlier this year, suggested admissions tutors were vulnerable to well-spoken applicants from fee-paying schools at the expense of those from the state sector.
Earlier this year, deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg accused Oxford and Cambridge of failing to create a socially-balanced student body, and warned them to ensure “British society is better reflected” in their admissions to justify their state funding.
Oxford defended its admissions policy, citing it has “more generous” bursary package awards than any other university. However, just 14.4 per cent of Oxford undergraduates were eligible for a full state grant, compared with around a third of students nationally last year.
This breaks down as despite only representing just seven percent of the student population, pupils from private schools made up four-in-10 places.
Baroness Kennedy, a Labour peer, speaking to Times Higher Education magazine, said tutors: “are very easily suckered by what they perceive to be the excellence before them”.
“[There are] all sorts of mad pecking orders and who sits where at tables and all kinds of nonsense that they seem to love,” she said.
“But it will slowly but surely bite the dust.”
“There is a madness about that kind of minutiae. If you’re a scholar who is plumbing the real depths of a subject, it involves…narrowness. It can start to dictate how you see the world.”
A spokeswoman for Oxford said the university was committed to fair access.
“Oxford is committed to selecting candidates based on ability, not background – and ensuring that background doesn’t prevent anyone with an offer from coming here,” she said.
“The university’s financial support package for 2012 speaks to this commitment by offering the most generous support package to the poorest students, no strings attached.’
This comes as schools minister Nick Gibb claimed that the current culture of expectation is breeding unrealistic dreams of wealth in young people, citing a “destructive” perception of success, writes Rowena Mason at the Telegraph.
In a Commons debate about whether children should receive a better financial education, the minister said that millions of children were raised with the wrong priorities:
“The ‘got to have it now’ culture means young people have high aspirations for branded or designer goods, often without the means to pay for them. People have unrealistic expectations about the lifestyle they can afford, fuelled by the glittering trappings of celebrities.”
Mr. Gibb wants to see schools put a greater emphasis on math teaching, suggesting that some people might have avoided crippling debt if they had been taught about interest rates at school.
“We all have a job to do in moving young people’s aspirations away from this empty and often destructive perception of what success means,” he added.
“Developing children’s intellectual capabilities and interests is a direct antidote to materialism.
“Alongside that, young people must acquire a sense of responsibility. They need to contribute to society as responsible citizens and not take wild risks. They need to learn to live within their means.”
The education minister’s attack on the “got to have it now culture” was made just weeks after Lord Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, denounced a culture of egotism.
“The values of a consumer society really aren’t ones you can live by for terribly long,” the Chief Rabbi said.
“The consumer society was laid down by the late Steve Jobs [the founder of Apple] coming down the mountain with two tablets, iPad one and iPad two, and the result is that we now have a culture of iPod, iPhone, iTune, I, I, I.”