This blog is part of the series featuring ideas contained in the new HEPI-Brightside report, Reaching the parts of society universities have missed: A manifesto for the new Director for Fair Access and Participation. It introduces the perspectives from think tanks and research institutes, and showcases the idea from Nick Hillman, Director at the Higher Education Policy Institute.
Our higher education sector benefits enormously from the presence of Oxford and Cambridge. As two of the oldest, most prestigious and most successful universities in the world, the whole system sees trickle-down benefits. For example, it is hard to believe UK institutions would be so fantastically good at recruiting students from other countries without Oxbridge at the apex.
But, as with most good things in life, it is not all positive. The consequences include hyper-selective admissions: in 1963, the Robbins Report called for ‘rather more equality of attraction’ between Oxbridge and other universities: ‘We should make the most of first class ability wherever it exists.’That remains a challenge today.
Yet the position of Oxbridge at the top of the tree is unlikely to change: it is noticeable that those who campaign so vociferously against selection at age 11 tend to be silent over hyper-selection at 18. So we must think about delivering fairer access to the most selective institutions alongside widening participation overall.
Fortunately, the best solution to both challenges is the same: provide more places, so that entry is not such a fierce battle. In recent decades, other institutions have expanded their undergraduate numbers far more than the two Oxbridge institutions have done. If existing colleges are reluctant to increase their undergraduate entry, then it is time to consider founding a number of entirely new Oxbridge colleges to boost the number of students from under- represented groups at our oldest, richest and most prestigious universities.