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Nick Clegg attacks Oxford University entry system-But is he contradicting himself?


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After years of criticism aimed at its elitist entry procedures and a recent warning from Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg Oxford University appears to be taking further steps to offer opportunities to students from less- privileged backgrounds.

Nick CleggCriticism of the institution has been recently backed up with threats of Government financial support if they failed to improve on their entry requirements and open up more places to students from  a variety of backgrounds.

David Cameron, a former Oxford student himself, labelled it a "disgrace" that there had been just one black pupil admitted to the University last year, and backed Clegg's decision.

Clegg shared the same sentiment, “Here’s a fact: last year, only 40 – four zero — children who had been on free school meals — in other words from the more disadvantaged families in this country — got into either Oxford or Cambridge, and that was a lower number than the year before.”

The Deputy Prime Minister added, “So we do need to make real efforts to say to universities: if you want to continue to get support from the taxpayer to educate our young people, you’ve got to make sure that British society is better reflected in the people you take into the university in the first place.”

But critics have claimed this to be another political u-turn by the coalition Government. Clegg’s comments do indeed seem polarised against the Coalition’s decision to hike tuition fees, and his pleas for a fairer entry system are somewhat misplaced in the grand scheme of increasing the cost of higher education, which has seen a sharp drop in applications and swarms of riots deterred by the massive increase.

Justifying the threat to remove funding for universities that do not meet diversity requirements Nick Clegg said institutions must earn funding by ‘(doing) a lot, lot more to get under-represented youngsters from poor backgrounds, from black, minority ethnic backgrounds into your university.’

But Professor David Eastwood, the vice-chancellor of Birmingham University and a former chief executive of England’s Higher Education Funding Council, claimed that the Coalition criticisms were misplaced, and that secondary education should be the focus for change, suggesting that many promising state school students dropped out at 16. 

"I think it’s deeply unhelpful to expect higher education to fix problems that are structural in education" stated Eastwood.

“Anyone who knows about progression in education knows that 16 is the key age and it is at 16 that we lose a lot of talented people, particularly from ethnic minority backgrounds and poorer backgrounds.”

Aaron Porter, former president of the National Union of Students, waded into the debate, adding, “We are seeing, with every day that passes, how the Government’s policy is descending further into chaos,” he said.

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