Lord Patten, Chancellor of Oxford University, has criticised the idea of imposing quotas on the admission of students, including BME students and those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. He stated that any plan to introduce minimum numbers of students from diverse backgrounds would lower academic standards.
Lord Patten made these comments following a Government proposal that would require all universities to publish data about the ethnicity, gender and socio-economic background of their students. This has been described by Jo Johnson, the minister for universities, as a “transparency revolution”.
In response, members of Merton JCR, noting that only 13 per cent of students identify as BME, have proposed a motion to denounce the Chancellor’s comment and demand an apology.
The motion called Patten’s comments “reprehensible insofar as they rely on the assumption that deliberately increasing the proportion of BME students at Oxford via quotas would entail a lowering standards, since it is clear that many highly capable students are turned away from Oxford every year, and that BME students are disproportionately rejected.”
Ministers are also looking to improve transparency in other areas, including forcing universities to publish information about graduate employment and the number of contact hours for each of the courses they offer.
In addition, the Queen’s speech to education given on Thursday, announced a bill making it easier for new universities to open. The bill also reforms funding to link it to the quality of teaching. Funding had previously been linked to the number of students.
The increase in transparency has been cautiously welcomed by some students. Nermeen Hilton, a Balliol student, said, “I think that an increase in transparency in the higher education system would have a positive impact because it could discourage institutional prejudice. Having more information about the course and job prospects after graduation will definitely help people make better decisions about where they apply to.
“However,” he continued, “the problem with universities publishing admissions data is it may lead to them trying to create the right statistics, rather than letting the best candidates in or actually addressing the underlying issues.”
“Having more information about the course and job prospects will help people make better decisions”
Despite Lord Patten’s opposition to quotas, Oxford University has defended its own record on transparency. “Oxford has published detailed information on our access and admissions performance for two decades, and would welcome similar transparency across higher education,” a spokesperson told Cherwell.
“We continue to make strong and sustained progress on access: For entry in 2016, the proportion of offers going to UK state school candidates rose to more than 59 per cent,” the University said. “The latest figures also show the University exceeding, meeting or making significant progress towards all four of its ambitious OFFA Access Agreement targets, including student numbers from schools with historically limited progression to Oxford, and students from neighbourhoods with low participation in higher education.”
Lord Patten’s statement is the latest in a series of controversial statements made by the Chancellor, most recently in an article for Project Syndicate in which he claimed that universities in China and Hong Kong are facing threats from the government to free speech and their autonomy.