White private school boys ‘face the biggest disadvantage when applying to Oxbridge’

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Eton schoolboys
Eton schoolboys

White private school boys are now the most disadvantaged when applying to Oxbridge, a leading Cambridge professor has suggested.

Prof David Abulafia, a fellow of Gonville and Caius College, warned there was a “simple fact of discrimination” in admissions policies tilting towards state schools.

Traits such as “white, male and privileged” were becoming frowned upon, as diversity training increasingly focused on the controversial ideology of “white privilege”, he said.

He raised concern about comments this month from Professor Stephen Toope, Cambridge University’s vice-chancellor, who was “very, very clear" that "we are intending to reduce over time the number of people who are coming from independent school backgrounds into places like Oxford or Cambridge”.

Prof Abulafia told The Telegraph: “I’m trying to be fair and balanced about this, but I do think that Toope’s comments were unfortunate."

He particularly criticised the "very, very" emphasis in Prof Toope's remarks and pointed out that colleges, not the university, select students.

Brampton Manor Academy, in London, got more students into Oxbridge than Eton last year. Pictured are pupils who received conditional offers in 2021 - Brampton Manor Academy/PA Wire
Brampton Manor Academy, in London, got more students into Oxbridge than Eton last year. Pictured are pupils who received conditional offers in 2021 - Brampton Manor Academy/PA Wire

Prof Abulafia added: “It’s the simple fact of discrimination which is what concerns me. I’m raising genuine concern about dumping people without real consideration of whether they are fairly treated."

He said the "best thing is just to leave out the name of the school", but said: "Of course, then admissions tutors will spend all their time trying to guess people’s background on the basis of how they speak and all sorts of other factors which could be more deleterious.”

He said private school headteachers had raised concerns with him about a “brain drain”, where independent school pupils opt for scholarships at top US universities such as Yale and Harvard - because they have a better chance of getting in.

Prof Abulafia added that the ideology of white privilege, a regular feature in diversity training delivered in universities and the public sector, “doesn’t just ignore these people, it actually targets them in a rather hostile way and I think that’s a problem”.

David Abulafia, fellow of Gonville and Caius College, has raised concerns about admissions - David Rose for The Telegraph
David Abulafia, fellow of Gonville and Caius College, has raised concerns about admissions - David Rose for The Telegraph

However, he said he was “very supportive” of measures to drive up disadvantaged students at Cambridge and singled out Lucy Cavendish College for its progress in this regard.

While only 12 per cent of children go to private school sixth forms, they still account for more than a quarter of Oxford and Cambridge’s intake.

State school pupils make up 72 per cent of Cambridge’s undergraduate admissions, just under a third of whom went to grammar schools.

Prof Abulafia wrote in The Spectator: “At the moment, the really disadvantaged candidates are arguably the white males from outstanding independent schools. If they are rejected by their first-choice college and placed in the ‘pool’ so other colleges can look at their application, they nearly all sink without trace."

He said Oxbridge was unique in that it cannot simply increase total intake, because of the limited size of colleges.

He added that teachers at Eton College have been confused by the sharp reduction in the number of their pupils gaining Oxbridge places, which halved between 2014 and last year - beaten by top state sixth forms such as Brampton Manor Academy in London, dubbed the the “Eton of the East End”.

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