MPS ARE to launch an investigation this week into whether top universities are biased against pupils from state schools, as new revelations fuel the row over elitism at Oxford and Cambridge.
Barry Sheerman, the chairman of the Education select committee, said yesterday that the controversy over the issue had put the relationships between leading schools and universities under the spotlight.
"Links [with state schools] are very important. Seventeen people went to Oxford from my Huddersfield constituency this year, and 16 came from Greenhead College, a top state college which has built up some very good links with Oxbridge," said Mr Sheerman, who hopes to keep his committee's inquiry "short and sharp" and to produce a report before the Commons begins its break in July.
In response to evidence yesterday that half the masters of Oxbridge colleges had formal links to fee-paying schools, leading academic figures denied suggestions that the "old boy" network was still influential. While half the heads of the colleges were governors or had other connections, many more colleges nominated fellows to the governing bodies of schools.
Government sources said there was still concern that not enough state school pupils were being admitted to Oxford or Cambridge. While they accounted for 67 per cent of pupils gaining top A-level grades, 52 per cent of entrants came from the state sector, they said. Even at colleges with a reputation for admitting large numbers of state sector students, there is still unease about their links with fee-paying schools.
King's College, Cambridge, for example, took more than four- fifths of its students from state schools but its Provost, Professor Patrick Bateson, is a senior fellow of Eton College. The link between the college and the school goes back hundreds of years, but Professor Bateson maintained it had little practical use. …