Truss is the current favourite to replace Boris Johnson when he steps down as PM in SeptemberUK Government/Flickr (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic)

In an interview last Sunday (30/07), Tory leadership candidate Liz Truss claimed that offering all students who achieve three A*s at A-level an Oxbridge interview would help to “fix Britain’s social mobility problem.”

Truss is the current favourite to replace Boris Johnson when he steps down as PM in September, commanding 69% support compared to opponent Rishi Sunak’s 31%, according to recent polling of Conservative Party members.

Cambridge SU’s Undergrad AEP (Access, Education and Participation) Officer Neve Atkinson told Varsity: “Attending Oxbridge is not the only way to success in this country.” 

She argues that the policy “suggests that anyone who achieves three A*s would not only want to come to Oxford or Cambridge, but that they should, which absolutely is not the case. Many of the small percentage of students who achieve three A*s at A-Level will have been disproportionately advantaged in some way, at some point in their education. For many, achieving three Bs takes more effort than three A*s, and the idea that attainment isn’t context-dependent is outdated.”

Atkinson continued: “Most Cambridge offers are A*, A, A, not three A*s, and so making this requirement more difficult would almost certainly decrease the proportion of state-school students applying to and attending Cambridge.”

Cambridge’s standard offer for most arts, humanities and social sciences subjects is A*AA, and A*A*A for most STEM degrees. Over the past five years, around 55% of students accepted to Cambridge’s arts degrees got less than three A*s at A-level, and 18% of STEM students were accepted with less than three A*s.

Both of these figures have been affected by pandemic grade inflation – for the 2017-2019 admissions cycles, 36% of arts students and 20% of STEM students were accepted with less than three A*s.


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Students who do not meet their offers, including those with B grades, can also be admitted via Cambridge’s summer pool. An average of 60 UK students each year, 77% of whom attended state schools, are granted places at Cambridge this way.  

One JCR access officer also expressed their concern to Varsity, claiming that the policy “is not only unworkable, it is unfair and will actively harm students from lower performing state schools.” 

They continued: “If it were implemented, it would be a massive waste of resources that should be spent helping those with lower grades apply to the university of their choice. Triple A* students are already attending great universities all over the country.”

The policy has also received criticism on both a logistical level, given that Oxford and Cambridge are private institutions, who already interview thousands of students each year. In 2019, the last year of normal A-level exams sat before pandemic policies, 3,000 students achieved three or more A*s in England alone. 

The former education minister also wants universities to offer places after exam results have been secured, though it is unclear where Oxford and Cambridge’s admissions processes – which currently span five months – would fit into this schedule. 

Varsity has contacted Liz Truss and the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge for comment.