Prejudice! Deaf student turned down for place at Oxford University!
August 19, 2002 5:01 PM   Subscribe

Prejudice! Deaf student turned down for place at Oxford University! Every year we have stories about how students were turned down for places at Oxford and Cambridge (the Yale and Harvard of the UK). The argument usually revolves around elitism, and that not enough state educated students are accepted into the top universities. This year, the story is of deaf student, Anastasia Fedotova, whose mother believes Oxford has discriminated against her daughter for not letting her in. And this just in, thousands of other parents are also claiming their able-bodied children have also been discriminated against. Oh, why can't those heartless admissions staff just accept every applicant!?
posted by wackybrit (26 comments total)
I was at Cambridge 'til 8 or so years ago. The difference between state and "public" (ie private) school educated people was obvious - state school people were less confident, worked harder, and got better grades (on average, obviously). Maybe things have changed since then (even then they were "trying" to change), but at the time the case for more state educated students was glaringly obvious. There was even a name for this - the "Manchester Grammar effect". Manchester Grammar was one of the top "public" (ie private) schools in the country - the teaching so good that even relatively poor students got excellent grades.

Not sure that's any help, but I'm wary that wackybrit's smart-arse comment at the end of the post might imply that there's no problem....

(Disclaimer - I come from a "good" state school).
posted by andrew cooke at 5:17 PM on August 19, 2002

I think it's starting to be the case, and I really really hope it's sorted out rather soon, but the term 'public school' to mean 'private school' seems to be less common now than ever. I can't wait for this archaic term to fall out of general use!
posted by wackybrit at 5:24 PM on August 19, 2002

I used to put a lot more stock in the stories of Oxbridge admissions elitism until I applied. If a graduate of the Florida public school system (public high school, community college and state university) can get in, then any qualified candidate has an equally good chance to get in.

But just because you're really good does not mean you are guaranteed a place. In Ms. Fedotova's case, Brasenose College accepted 8 students. Eight. How many did they have to turn down? When you can only offer 8 places, you're going to take the best you can get.

On the other hand, it's a little annoying to see people like Ms. Fedotova and Ms. Pence get offered places and scholarships to other universities having never applied to them. I wish someone would throw some of that money my way!
posted by ahughey at 6:24 PM on August 19, 2002

Join the dots, people...
1. Anastasia (the student) said she just wanted "to move on" and would apply to another university - she thought she might try Cambridge. [BBC]

2. Her mother said she believed Anastasia's deafness had gone against her and the university's selection procedure had not allowed her daughter to shine. [BBC]

3. Oxford's admissions practices came under intense scrutiny two years ago following the rejection by Magdalen College of another straight As student from a state school, Laura Spence. [BBC]

4. Ms Spence herself later said Oxford had been right. [BBC]

5. August is 'Silly Season', when papers are desperate for rabble rousing stories, and aleegedly elitist Oxford clleges make an easy target. It's also the month when exam reults are released, disputed, cocked up and cooked up.

- Non-story of the week. Also, Pushy-Mum-Of-The-WeekTM.

[Besides, as we all know, it's the playing fields of Eton wot made us great - poor gal never stood a chance!]

posted by dash_slot- at 6:36 PM on August 19, 2002

I go to Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, and I'm planning on applying to Oxford and Cambridge for my masters...I don't really know what to expect, though.
posted by Beansidhe at 6:52 PM on August 19, 2002

Do you Johnny Foreigners get things cheap at Oxford and Cambridge like the Brits? If so, that's wholly unfair, because I sure as hell couldn't apply to Harvard and pay $2000 a year ;-)
posted by wackybrit at 2:52 AM on August 20, 2002

Having been through the Oxford entrance procedures I have this to add:

1. Her exam grades are irrelevant. The decision was made before she had taken her A' levels. She would have been told about this decision months ago.

2. The whole procedure if very subjective. More candidates than are eventually accepted are good enough to be given a place. What matters is how you did in the entrance exam and how you come across at interview. If you have a bad day you're fucked.

4. Some courses are more competitive than others and some colleges more popular. If you want to study maths you're going to be up against stiff competition.

3. Oxbridge isn't the be all and end all. For many courses other universities are superior.

4. The girl's mother using her disability in this way is terrible. Does she now have to go through life thinking that every time something doesn't go right for her it's because she's deaf?
posted by Summer at 2:57 AM on August 20, 2002

Wackybrit - non-EU students pay full fees (£10k pa and above). That's why so many UK universities are so keen to increase the numbers of overseas students.
posted by prentiz at 2:59 AM on August 20, 2002

(Disclaimer: I'm at Cambridge)

This sort of stuff is really irritating, especially when statistically speaking, you're just as likely (if not more) to get in to Cambridge if you're a state school pupil than a private school pupil. Every time a somehow disadvantaged applicant gets turned down, it's always never because of the fact that there were better pupils - it's because they were discriminated against; never mind the fact that thousands of 'advantaged' applicants get turned down as well (e.g. from top private schools).

I posted this comment to the BBC Talking Point on the subject - it didn't get published, perhaps because I berated the media for beating the story to death every single year.
posted by adrianhon at 3:01 AM on August 20, 2002

This seems to be a statement from the University on access to minority groups. To paraphrase the end of the section on disabilities... Within Magdalen...I've found that being deaf has hardly been an issue amongst other students. I'm not saying that this sort of discrimination doesn't happen, but it's definitely not policy.
posted by seanyboy at 3:27 AM on August 20, 2002

I got the grades CDEE in my A-Levels (blame it on a lack of motivation), and Oxford turned me down. They should stop descriminating against students with low grades ;)
posted by hnnrs at 3:29 AM on August 20, 2002

The press coverage is clearly crap, but there is also a glaring inequality here - 10% of pupils go to "independent" schools in the uk (actually England/Wales for that statistic), 90% to state schools. But according to the second report above, only 56% of pupils at Oxford are from state schools.

Also, that 10% is very much the upper and mid/upper social classes (there are some scholarships, but they're a drop in the ocean). Which means that Oxbridge intake is strongly biased towards the rich.

I have no objection to academic elitism here - that's what these places are for - but this is glaring social elitism.

The colleges say that not enough state-school people apply, as if to excuse themselves. But if they're supposed to be educating the academic elite then they should be getting off their fat arses and going out to persuade more of those people to apply.

I'm not denying that there are some "outreach" schemes, but I very much doubt that they're as well funded or as well-run as they could be. The college system and centuries of closetted complacency means that there is very little centralised control. Most things in academic life at Oxbridge depend on the whim of whoever has responsibility in a particular college - there's little feeling of responsibility or accountability at the university level and, consequently, little chance of large-scale, well-planned action.

Beansidhe - you ask what to expect. Things are a lot better for postgrad studies; your colleagues will be pretty international and selected more on abaility than class. If you don't want to be surrounded by hordes of irritating, brash students, try to get into a graduate-only college, or one with a separate area for graduates. At Cambridge (and I guess Oxford is similar) the town is dominated by students - which gets pretty opressive after a while - but at least London is a fairly short train ride away.

I should add that I enjoyed much of my time there...
posted by andrew cooke at 5:15 AM on August 20, 2002

Andrew: I agree that there number of state school applicants compared to private school applicants is way out of proportion. And while much of the blame can be attributed to Oxbridge, I don't think all of it can. There's only so much outreaching they can do, and even that wouldn't combat some of the incredibly deeply trenched anti-Oxbridge attitudes some people have. I've heard anecdotal reports of some state school teachers dissuading pupils from applying ("you don't want to go to a place like that") and the same happening with parents ("we'd lose him/her if they went to Oxbridge").

I should add that the irritating, brash students, at least in my experience, tend to be a very vocal minority of the student population. That doesn't make them any less irritating, of course.
posted by adrianhon at 6:11 AM on August 20, 2002

I agree with Adrian entirely but would also like to oppose another point which was implied by Andrew.

The huge inequality between the percentages of pupils educated in the state and independent systems in the UK is not one which should be reflected in each and every university in the land. The aim of a university is not to ensure that they recruit the exact numbers to reflect this imbalance, rather to maintain their status in academia and their reputation with employers as a superb educational establishment.

Universities, in my opinion, should not be allowed to know from where their applicants have come; their decision should be an objective one based on the performance of a candidate at interview/application alone. The positive selection which has been forced upon the universities by the Government will simply enforce the most gifted pupils to the less elite universities because they went to the wrong schools to be considered for Oxford or Oxbridge. Thus the system is watered down and the status of the elite establishments eroded.
posted by nico at 6:44 AM on August 20, 2002

I agree with Nico entirely (I went from a comprehensive in the North to Oxford). There is a substantial difference between working to encourage state school applicants (like this) and discriminating in their favour. The best candidates should get the place - no matter what their backgrounds may be.
posted by prentiz at 7:06 AM on August 20, 2002

I know nothing of equal access law in the UK, but it seems to me the student is responsible for requesting an interpreter and if submitted, the institution is required to provide one. If the mother wants to fret about it, she ought to think twice.
posted by yonderboy at 8:06 AM on August 20, 2002

Oxbridge should educate the brightest people we have. At the moment it´s educating the brightest rich people, and some of the brighter poor people.

If I learnt one thing there it's that intelligence doesn't correlate with anything - personal hygiene, height, race or how rich your parents are...

It would be nice if we could just wish it away, or pretend that we live in a perfect world where universities don't need to worry about such things, but the plain fact is that bright people from lower class backgrounds are less likely to make it to Oxbridge than their richer counterparts. I think that's wrong, and I think the universities should be concerned about it because it's morally wrong. Quality of education should not depend on social status.

But even if you're happier with free market economics 101 than morality, it's still wrong - if they got greater social coverage, they'd be providing a better service to employers because the average level of ability would rise.
posted by andrew cooke at 8:21 AM on August 20, 2002

If what you say is correct Andrew, and I don't honestly think it is, then the schools are at fault, not the universities.

If the brightest poor candidates are not getting in then it is because they have not been prepared well enough for their application.

The sole reason that more independent school educated candidates get accepted is that they are prepared for their application and interview for many months beforehand.

Also, don't forget that the public school scholars, the brightest of that bunch, often apply for their school scholarships because they can't afford the fees.
posted by nico at 9:02 AM on August 20, 2002

The Education section of the Guardian has a feature devoted to Oxbridge and elitism that seems to cover many of the points argued here.
posted by ahughey at 9:25 AM on August 20, 2002

Nico: The sole reason that more independent school educated candidates get accepted is that they are prepared for their application and interview for many months beforehand.

According to this Guardian article (thanks ahughey) that may not be the sole reason - pupils from independent schools also attain far higher results than pupils from state schools. If Oxbridge and indeed all universities are to admit students based on merit alone, and based on the (not unreasonable, I believe) assumption that A-Level results are correlated with 'merit' then you'll expect a disproportionate amount of independent school pupils to be admitted to good universities.

Personally, I believe the root of the problem lies in the sorry state of state education in the UK and as the Guardian article puts it, "the schools, the families and the whole ideological infrastructure, which deliberately inhibits young people from reaching out for the highest they might achieve."
posted by adrianhon at 9:42 AM on August 20, 2002

Lots of holes here, which, as dash_slot said, makes it smell like silly season PR fodder. This student was turned down by Oxford in January. She (or rather her mother) has waited till August and A-Level results day to go public with it, when it's been made clear by all the top British universities that bare results won't get you a place these days. Now, she apparently doesn't have a place waiting for her at another institution. Did she not bother applying elsewhere? Or did she get offers, and decide not to take them up? Did the old 'ideological infrastructure' kick in which makes certain parents think that if it's not Oxford or Cambridge for their kids, it's failure?

Anyway, Imperial's maths department could eat Oxford for breakfast, and they've offered Anastasia a place. If her mother can be convinced that Oxbridge isn't the be-all and end-all, she should snap it up.
posted by riviera at 10:26 AM on August 20, 2002

Just a note here that the Oxford admissions system works entirely differently for graduate students-- viz. undergraduates apply to one college for admission, whereas postgraduates apply to one department and only after acceptance, affiliate with a college.

Ahughey, when you mention your experience with the admissions process, it's important to note that you and this deaf student went through something entirely different.
posted by yellowcandy at 2:09 PM on August 20, 2002

yellowcandy is quite right on the differences between postgraduate and undergraduate admissions. However, I was just dropping a casual bit of anecdotal evidence and not trying to make any great case of it.

Really, that comment was more aimed at the much abused state of public education in Florida than Oxford admissions.
posted by ahughey at 2:53 PM on August 20, 2002

Education & Poverty in the UK: Action Update.
"A scheme in Northern Ireland to get 16-year-olds from deprived backgrounds who thought university was not for them, has achieved a 100% success rate. "
posted by dash_slot- at 7:31 PM on August 20, 2002

dash_slot: Thats a great story. Thanks.

I graduated from Harvard and have worked with the Harvard admissions office. Here in the US there is a similar obstacle with getting brilliant kids from under-priviledged backgrounds to even consider that a University like Harvard would accept them. Harvard wants them but can't get them if they dont even fill out the admissions packet.
posted by vacapinta at 7:45 PM on August 20, 2002

Even Elle Woods got into Harvard, and she only had a degree in fashion from UCLA.. but one HECK of an admissions video!
posted by wackybrit at 3:26 PM on August 21, 2002

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