Debate: positive discrimination prevents meritocracy

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Improving access to students from  more disadvantaged backgrounds has rightly become the  priority for Oxbridge admissions. After all, no young person should be discriminated against “on the basis of the class they were born into”. The upper echelons of higher education should be open to all inspiring, budding young intellectuals and academics. They should welcome experts and pioneers of new and transformative research projects. The kind that will greatly impact our way of life through this increasingly technological age.

What’s more, the intellectual arena of Oxford far transcends the boundaries of degree subject-matter.  That is one of a plethora of reasons why there is such frenzied competition to step onto the hallowed turf at one of the historic colleges, prime sponsors of a scholastic heavyweight.

However, amidst all this obsequious flattery and wily optimism, there is, emerging, a source of unfortunate pessimism. In the age of identity politics, the onus on meritocracy has lost some of its perennial shine. Call this a Utopian vision, but we should be promoting an egalitarian cherry-picking of the best academic potential, exclusive of identity bracketing.

We should be celebrating the richness of the young, ‘rough-diamond’ intellect, not engaging in a relentless tick-box self-promoting marketing drive.

On the contrary, increasingly higher education bodies find themselves pandering to the external pressure groups and the liberal, ‘woke’ left. The assimilation of diversity quotas encourage victim status among minorities, on the pretext of being a panacea for social injustice. By persuading young people that their  identity pits society against them, we are slipping further down the quagmire of poverty of aspiration.

Kawlwant Bhopal, a professor of education and justice at Birmingham University put it this way: “These schools perpetuate privilege. Contextual admissions are one small step to addressing inequalities of opportunity facing children from many working-class, and black and ethnic minority families.” Just look at the General Election. Swathes of the traditional ‘Red Wall’ shifted their allegiances. They turned to a party promoting opportunity, aspiration, hard work and ambition. They rejected the patronising politics of class envy and oppression.

So-called positive discrimination and meritocracy cannot go hand in hand.

The wider public are sick to their back teeth of being told to check their privilege.  Just watch the response of the audience after Laurence Fox was berated for his “privilege.” Private schools should prioritise broadening their scholarship schemes and access opportunities. A savage full-scale assault on private schools as beacons that perpetuate privilege misses the point, so does a charade of tokenistic multiculturalism.

Prospective undergraduates should not miss out on a place at Oxbridge on factors they can’t control. Nor should more people from an underrepresented background be pigeon-holed in just to fulfil a quota. To deprive young people of a place at Oxbridge, because they ‘have privilege’ is a malicious path of discrimination. We as a liberal and compassionate society would be ill-advised to follow it.

Magdalen College –  LeighvsOptimvsMaximvs