Les Ebdon and the matter of university entrance

Zak Kanter really wanted to be a doctor. He had everything going for him – 13 A* grades at GCSE, three predicted A*s at A level, masses of time spent on work placements in GP surgeries and hospitals. He helped at camps for children suffering from cancer. But last year the 18 year old was abruptly turned away from no fewer then four medical schools without interview or explanation.

He was so surprised he even sent his application off to one or two professors at the medical schools he had chosen and asked them for their personal views. “I was told by two that it was inexplicable and they could not understand what was going on,” he told The Sunday Times last week.

Zak, who was a pupil at the private fee-paying City of London boys school, is concerned. In fact he’s decided to give up his dream of being a medic. Was one factor behind his rejection the fact that he goes to a private school while universities and medical schools are under pressure to accept more state school candidates, especially those from poor families and/or poor comprehensives?

Today Les Ebdon, vice chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire, has been announced as the Government’s new admissions watchdog. Professor Ebdon has made no secret of his desire to see top universities taking more students from state schools. He says he wants to be “an iron fist in a velvet glove” and will be prepared to fine and financially penalise universities if they fail to play their part in improving social mobility.

Inevitably, backbench Tories are furious and elite universities are worried they might have to take students from comprehensives who have worse results than private school candidates. Are they over-reacting?

After all, private schools educate only seven per cent of the population yet privately schooled pupils still take more than 40 per cent of undergraduate places at Oxford and Cambridge. It’s true the figures for state school students are creeping up, especially at Cambridge. One don said he could envisage as many as 70 per cent of students coming from state schools within the next 10-20 years. But, added the don, he would fiercely oppose any attempt to make the university take students who were “academically weaker because they came from certain social backgrounds.”

Would love to know if any UK parents have stories to tell of their children being turned down by Oxbridge, whether from a state or a private school.

Who is right in this debate?

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