Helen Mountfield QC, principal of Mansfield College, has stated that the university should recruit 90% of its students from state schools in accordance with the educational background of the country.
Currently in the UK only 7% of students at GCSE age are studying in private institutions, this sits in contrast to the 30.9% of Oxford students who have been made an offer to study here this year. The figure including Grammar Schools sits even higher at 60%.
The Mansfield college principal was herself educated at a comprehensive school, and has stated that increasing the proportion of offers to state school students has boosted Mansfield’s academic performance.
Speaking to The Sunday Times, Mountfield said the college’s dedication to diversifying the educational background of its students had raised the college’s performance from the bottom of the Norrington table – which ranks Oxford colleges on the number of firsts and 2:1 degrees achieved by students – to fifth.
She stated that, “we have consistently gone up and this year we are fifth. It shows that we are not saying let’s let in some poor kids as a charity case, but identifying cleverer people because we are looking more broadly at who might benefit from being here […] I would like to see [the proportion] to be broadly representative of the society from which people come. That would be about 90 per cent”.
The human rights barrister said admissions tutors should consider contextual factors such as whether an applicant is the first person in their family to attend university.
“It might be the person with sparky ideas [of whom] you think, ‘I can teach you to write like a dream. But what I can’t teach you is ideas.’ So we’re just trying to find the people who might be slightly fumbling for it, who haven’t been taken to the theatre all through their childhood, or seen people reading broadsheet newspapers,” she said.
Responding to a claim that the college’s approach to admissions was ‘social engineering’ she stated that, “what you’re trying to do is recognise some of the patterns of advantage of society and find potential by trying to set those aside”.
Describing an incident in her own career, she explained how a judge once told her positive discrimination for female judges would be “dreadful”, as they would feel “they were only there because they were women”.
She said, “Does it undermine your self-confidence that you’re a white man? Do you ever think, maybe I’m only a judge because I’m a white man and if I was a woman I wouldn’t be here?’”
Mountfield wants to bring the university in line with Mansfield’s own student population, of which 90 per cent of students are state-educated, and a quarter are the first in their family to attend university.
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