Affirmative Action Crosses the Pond

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Researchers in the United Kingdom argue that England’s most exclusive universities should seek to diversify their student body. According to the article yesterday in the Daily Mail the Higher Education Policy Institute‘s Bahram Bekhradnia and Oxford’s Juliet Chester indicate that:

Oxford and Cambridge should ‘explicitly discriminate’ against middle-class applicants with top grades to ensure a diverse student intake, researchers claim today.

The elite universities give more places to pupils from fee-paying schools than their abilities warrant, they argue.

Researchers Juliet Chester and Bahram Bekhradnia suggest that universities should follow the lead of U.S. Ivy League institutions and ‘seek explicitly to achieve a better social mix’ in their student bodies.

This comes in the wake of some concern that the UK’s top schools are unfairly excluding poor students, before they even get a chance to apply. Lord Mandelson, British Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills warned earlier this year that poor students are essentially barred by current admissions standards at elite British universities.

This is a divisive opinion, with conservative journalist Harry Phibbs arguing ardently that while certain economic elitism in these schools may be troublesome:

Not everyone is suited for university – they are inherently elitist institutions, so the very notion of a non-elitist university is a contradiction in terms. It is flawed for governments to issue targets on how many people should be going to university because many of us are not bright enough, at least in narrow academic terms, to benefit. Others might be bright enough but are already clear about what they want to do in life and are too impatient to delay for three years before getting on with it.

Sound familiar?

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer