Destruction of the unique Oxford university underway

In the name of equality of course. How sad to tamper with one of the world's most successful educational systems. The personalized nature of an Oxford education is widely held to be the secret of its success and that is precisely what is being undermined

College tutors will lose their historic right to select students for admission to Oxford University under plans for sweeping reform announced yesterday. Students will apply to Oxford, not individual colleges, as part of proposals to centralise admissions. A working party on reform said that the changes could be agreed within six months and implemented in 2008. It admitted in a report that the present system left Oxford vulnerable to accusations that bright students, particularly from comprehensive schools, were being rejected unfairly because they did not know how to play the college game. There was a "widespread perception" that candidates could boost their chances of success by choosing the right college, because of differences in the size of different colleges and the number of applicants in each subject. "It is the view of many - both inside and outside Oxford - that we still fall short in terms of having systems in place that can ensure that the very best who apply to Oxford are admitted, irrespective of college choice," the report said.

A central admissions system, in which groups of subject tutors, rather than colleges, chose students, would ensure that Oxford admitted only the best applicants. "Eliminating the perception that college choice can make a difference would also help to encourage more applications from good candidates at schools and sixth-form colleges where there is limited knowledge and experience of Oxford," the report said. It acknowledged that college tutors might object to the loss of their freedom to select the students they wished to teach, but said that this had to be weighed against "the enhanced equality of opportunity for all candidates that should result". "Without central ranking and high levels of co-ordination, colleges are more likely to fill their places from their own cohort of first-choice applicants than to look outside that cohort for candidates of higher quality," it said.

The report was published as Oxford released figures showing that the number of admittances from state schools fell by 1.4 percentage point from 2004 to 46.4 per cent this year, and those from fee-paying schools rose by 1 percentage point to 43.9 per cent. The initiative is the latest by John Hood, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford, to modernise procedures. He has already clashed with dons over plans for performance management of academics and to transfer control of Oxford to a board of governors. The working party set out two models for change. Under the first, colleges would tell departments how many places they had available for each subject. Students would apply without naming a college and subject tutors would rank them and conduct interviews. Candidates would be asked if they had a preferred college once they had been offered a place. Under the second model, students would be able to nominate a college but subject tutors would decide whether they were ranked highly enough to merit an interview. Students would be interviewed by the preferred college and one other college before subject tutors decided whether to offer a place.

The working party, chaired by Sir Tim Lankester, President of Corpus Christi College, said: "The aim is to provide further assurance that - with more and more good candidates relative to the available places - the colleges and subject departments and faculties are doing all they reasonably can, together, to select the very best." It acknowledged that the reforms were also driven by a need to show the regulator, the Office for Fair Access, that Oxford was doing all it could to encourage applications from able state-school students


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