Mansfield College Principal lashed out at other colleges’ “easily suckered” tutors and the University’s “terrible snobbery” as she revealed that her college gave 84.5 percent of its places to students from the state sector this year.
Baroness Kennedy QC put this year’s 84.5 percent maintained sector acceptance to her college rate down to fellows learning how to “identify excellence in unusual places”.
In an interview given to the Times Higher Education magazine, she said: “My fellows have learned how to do it […] They are not taken in by the veneer and polish that can be produced by a certain kind of education”.
According to Baroness Kennedy not only have they learnt to see through a private school education but also are able to “see beyond the diffidence that you very often get from people from state schools”.
On BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions? Baroness Kennedy said: “There is no other college in Oxford that meets [an 84.5% maintained sector acceptance rate]”.
In 2010 the highest maintained sector acceptance rate was from Merton with 67.1%; the lowest was from St Peter’s with 41.7%. Three year averages from 2008-10 show that Trinity had the lowest state school acceptance rate of 44.7%.
Baroness Kennedy was careful to say that access should not come at the expense of diligence, telling the Times Higher Education magazine that she is “aware that you’re not doing anyone a favour by giving them a place if there are not going to be able to survive the academic demands”.
The increase in maintained sector acceptances are therefore put down to Mansfield tutors being more “astute and mindful,” unlike some tutors from other colleges who are “very easily suckered by what they perceive to be the excellence before them”.
The interview depicts Baroness Kennedy as being somewhat dismissive of the idea that access schemes such as Mansfield’s may lead to a bias against privately educated applicants.
She said: “I came to Oxford and I discovered that the upper-middle classes have got it clocked. Hard to get into Oxford? You get your kids to apply to do Classics or some obscure language, or get them to apply to do Theology, because they are areas that Oxford wants to keep alive but which get too few applicants.”
The possible unwillingness of other colleges to significantly change their access schemes is put down to a number of issues from the “terrible snobbery” to the fact that there is a “madness [about] minutiae” at Oxford.
The Oxford University website states that the university is “committed to recruiting the most able students, regardless of background.”
Baroness Kennedy, a Labour peer, has worked on increasing state sector access to university throughout her career, according to the Helena Kennedy Foundation Website, as commissioner on the National Commission for Education from 1991 to 1993 and then chairing the Further Education Commission into Widening Participation which produced a report entitled Learning Works in 1997.
Recently she has been outspoken on against the rise in tuition fees, saying on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions? that it “is going to set things back enormously”.
She further noted: “I think it is a hard struggle to make it a less frightening thing, the idea of coming to Oxbridge. […] [I want] to see people having opportunities. Wherever you are from I think you should have the opportunity of getting to our best institutions.”