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Cambridge’s deputy chancellor has warned private school pupils that they will lose places at Oxbridge to their public school peers in a bid to boost diversity.
Professor Stephen Toope, a Canadian who leaves his £365,000-a-year post this September after a series of painful battles with “awakened warriors”, said the former university has been working hard to increase its state school intake.
He told The Times newspaper that Cambridge would be “welcoming others” rather than telling private school students “we don’t want you.”
Public school students made up 72% of Cambridge admissions in September last year, up from 70.6% in 2020 and 68.7% in 2019, after almost 45% of all Cambridge exams A-level students earned an A* or A grade. Cambridge benchmarked 76% of state school admissions for 2020, while Oxford was 75.5%, compared to their actual state school admissions for 2020. just under 70%.
Private schools educate only 7% of children, with the proportion of sixth graders believed to be around 12%.
Calling the rise in state school admissions “real progress”, Professor Toope said: “What we are seeing already happening is people understanding that the premium to go to some schools may not be as significant as was before”.
“That’s something that will continue to change over time.”
He added: “I would say we need to continue to make it very, very clear that we intend to reduce over time the number of people who come from independent schools in places like Oxford or Cambridge.”
“Individual students who are talented, we would want them, but they are going to compete against a larger and larger group because there are more students coming from public schools who see a potential place for them at Cambridge or Oxford or other Russell Universities in the group.
Conservative MP Robert Halfon
Conservative MP Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons education select committee, said: ‘Clearly there is no level playing field and very little has been done.
“We have to make sure there is a meritocracy, at the moment it is not.”
Barnaby Lenon, Chairman of the Independent Schools Council and former Harrow chief, said: ‘Many public school pupils come from high-income households and many pupils who attend independent schools receive means-based scholarships.
‘Contextual admissions are just a sensitive part of the selection process if applied correctly.
“It’s a shame that this debate is presented so often as independent versus state.”
Universities Minister Michelle Donelan told the newspaper: “It’s really important that young people with the desire and ability get into higher education, including top universities, but that’s only part of the hurdle.”
“It’s about making sure they complete those courses.”
Announcing that he would be leaving two years early last year, Professor Toope said being separated from his children and grandchildren by borders closed during the pandemic “has been difficult”.
He comes after a succession of difficulties with the ‘awakened warriors’ over freedom of expression issues.
In December 2020, Cambridge came under fire for a free speech policy that proposed requiring staff and students to be “respectful” of differing viewpoints.
University of Cambridge rescinded a Visiting Scholarship offer to Dr. Jordan Peterson
But after an intervention, its governing body voted to revise the wording of the free speech guidelines from ‘respect’ to ‘tolerate’ following concerns from academics and alumni, including actor Stephen Fry.
Opponents of the original draft of the Cambridge declaration on free speech warned that calling for respect for opposing views could undermine academic freedom at the university and stifle viewpoints.
In March 2019, the University of Cambridge rescinded a Visiting Scholarship offer to Dr. Jordan Peterson because he was pictured with a man wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “I am a proud Islamophobe”.
At the time, Professor Toope said the association’s “casual endorsement” of the Canadian psychology professor was believed to be “antithetical” to the work of the university’s Divinity School.
Stephen Toope Quick and Facts
- Private school pupils ‘will lose out on Oxbridge places to state school peers’
- Cambridge vice-chancellor Professor Stephen Toope praised diversity
- He said the university was trying to increase intake from state schools