Virgo said “admissions decisions, including who we interview, must be for us”Wikemedia commons

University admissions decisions should be a matter for universities themselves, Graham Virgo has said, responding to Liz Truss’ proposal that all students with three A*s at A Level should be guaranteed an Oxbridge interview.

Conservative leadership candidate Liz Truss set out her policy in an interview last month, claiming that the proposed changes to the Oxford and Cambridge admissions system would help to “fix Britain’s social mobility problem”.

Graham Virgo, pro-vice chancellor for education, has criticised the front runner’s plans in an interview with the Times Higher Education.

Virgo expressed fears about “apparent political interference with the autonomy of universities” which made him “very concerned”. “Admissions decisions, including who we interview, must be for us”, he said.

The deputy chancellor also outlined his disquiet that this policy could potentially undermine the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, which preserves the principle of university independence.

University Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope expressed similar concerns about government interference with universities in a speech this summer.

Virgo said that he was not aware of any discussion between Truss’ team and the University before the proposed policy was announced, but that the University had since given it “some consideration”.

The scheme would require the use of Post Qualification Admissions (PQA), moving university admissions to follow A Level examinations and results. This area of the policy surprised Virgo, as it was considered earlier this year and then scrapped by the Department for Education.

In addition to questioning the feasibility of the policy, Virgo also queried why Truss’ policy focused the issue of social mobility entirely on Oxbridge “when there are many exceptional universities in this country”, and Cambridge “may not offer the courses or the mode of teaching and learning that students are looking for”.

The pitch forms a key part of Truss’ hopes to be the “education prime minister”, and recent polling suggests she has a 38% lead over Rishi Sunak in the race to be the next Prime Minister.

However, other figures in the education sector have also raised concerns about the policies.

Within Cambridge, the Students’ Union and members of college JCRs have also criticised the plans, especially the implication “that anyone who achieves three A*s would not only want to come to Oxford or Cambridge, but that they should”.

The result of the Conservative leadership contest will be announced on Monday 5th September.


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