Oxford and Cambridge: are students from London and South East England favoured?

Justine Cohendet, translated by Julie Richard
29 Juin 2013

A recent study conducted by the Guardian shows that students from London and South-East England are over represented in the two prestigious universities that British people call “Oxbridge”. According to Dan Hully, alumnus of Durham University, coming from a state school can represent an obstacle.

Oxford and Cambridge: are students from London and South East England favoured?
Whether you come from the North or the South of the United Kingdom, your chances to enter the best universities are not the same. The two most prestigious schools, Oxford and Cambridge, are clearly dominated by students from London and South-East England. Indeed, last year the county of Surrey, located in the South of London, sent nearly as many candidates to enter Oxbridge as Wales and the North-East of England together. 868 applications were received from the county of Surrey and only 1 187 applications from Wales and the North-East.
The study conducted by the Guardian specifies that these two regions count an additional 100,000 young people of the same age group.  
There are fewer applications and therefore fewer admissions of Northern students. In 2012, three London districts, Richmond upon Thames, Kensington-Chelsea and the City, have sent more than 25 students out of 1,000, aged between 16 and 17, to Oxbridge, whereas only 2.5 students out of 1,000 from the North-East and Wales have entered the two prestigious schools. 

A problem more didactic than geographic

Why are some regions under-represented at Oxbridge? According to the Guardian, this under-representation could be the result of a self-censorship from young people themselves, especially those who went to a state school. They wouldn’t apply for Universities which they think are inaccessible. But is this explanation enough to justify the huge gap splitting up the South and the North of England? Dan Hully moderates his comments. “I come from a state school, Cedars Upper School, I applied for Oxford. However, my school had advised me not to do so because it would require a lot of time and effort, even after getting four As at the A-level.”   
Criticised for their lack of social mix, the two universities are defending themselves. They explain in particular that their selection is based on the academic level and the capacities of the candidates, and not on where they live or on their school’s reputation.  
If we reason this way, the young British people from North-East of England and Wales wouldn’t be as qualified as their counterparts from the South. The Guardian’s study just confirms it. It shows that, with same educational qualifications, the number of successful candidates making it to Oxbridge is nearly the same whether you come from the North or the South. However, if we look at the admissions depending on the same age group, mixing up those who passed at the A-level and those who didn’t, the number of students coming from the North-East and Wales diminishes noticeably. For instance, on the 16-17 years old age group, we notice that Gateshead county, located in North-East England, has only 6 candidates out of 1,000 young people, whereas Hampshire county, located in the South, has 18 candidates. These numbers lead one to believe that Northern students leave higher education earlier, which could explain their low percentage in Oxbridge Universities.
According to Dan Hully, the nature of the problem isn’t only geographic. “There are poor people in the South of England and rich people in the North of England. The real separation happens between those who went to a private school or a grammar school and those who went to a state school (or comprehensive school). Most of the time, private schools spend a full semester preparing their students to Oxbridge, whereas the state school I went to advised me not to apply.” 
British universities have been several times under fire for under-representing students from state schools and young people from immigrant families. Already in 2009, the Guardian affirmed that not a single black person had been admitted to an Oxbridge University.