Cambridge University should take 93% of students from state schools and those at Eton should ‘travel up north to meet more diverse people’, says president of Murray Edwards College
- Dorothy Byrne, 69, said Eton pupils need to ‘get over obsession’ with Oxbridge
- Ex-Channel 4 boss says they should head to the north ‘to meet diverse people’
- Some 72% of students starting at Cambridge this year are from state schools
Cambridge University should take 93% of its students from state schools while those studying at the likes of Eton should ‘travel to the north to meet more diverse people.’
That’s the verdict of Dorothy Byrne, 69, who started her new role as president of Cambridge’s all-women’s Murray Edwards College this week.
The former head of news and current affairs at Channel 4 said the proportion of state-educated students at Cambridge should match UK society – which sees 93% of pupils attend state schools and colleges.
She added that privately-educated pupils need to ‘get over their obsession’ with getting into Oxford or Cambridge.
Her comments have riled private school leaders, with one association representing 600 institutions accusing Ms Byrne of promoting ‘bias’, adding that Cambridge should want to attract ‘the best of the best.’
Dorothy Byrne (pictured), 69, said the proportion of state-educated students at Cambridge should match UK society – which sees 93% of pupils attend state schools and colleges
Ms Byrne told the Times: ‘Students from Eton would be very lucky to get into Manchester and Sheffield universities.
‘It might be good for them. They could travel to the north, which might be a bit of a shock for some of them and meet more diverse people.
‘I would posit Boris Johnson and David Cameron would have benefited from going to Sheffield University [rather than Oxford].’
Ms Byrne, who studied at both Manchester and Sheffield, said the ideal intake of state-educated students at Cambridge would be 93%.
She added: ‘I understand that will mean that fewer students from top public schools like Eton, Harrow and Westminster will go to Cambridge but luckily there are more than 100 fantastic other universities private school pupils can go to and when they go to those places they will have the added advantage of meeting people who are not like them.’
Her comments come as some 72 per cent of students starting at Cambridge this year have come from state schools – the highest proportion in its 812-year history and a rise on last year’s 70.6 per cent.
The figure has been steadily climbing in recent years, and is up from 58.6 per cent in 2011.
But Ms Byrne’s suggestion of heavily increasing the figure has been criticised by private schools.
Neil Roskilly, vice-president of the Independent Schools Association, which represents 600 fee-paying schools, said: ‘You would imagine that Cambridge should be interested in getting the best of the best.
Ms Byrne has just started her new role as president of Cambridge’s all-women’s Murray Edwards College (pictured)
‘That is in the interests of the university and the country as a whole.
‘Any bias against particular sections of society should not be welcomed. Selection should be on academic merit alone and not on any perceived bias against any section of society.
‘Cambridge should come up with selection procedures that are blind to background.
‘The closer we get to a background-blind admissions system the better. [Byrne] should not be naming individual schools.’
Ms Byrne went on to praise Cambridge’s five new heads of colleges this year, which are made up of two women, one black man, a gay man and a lieutenant-general – which she said showed a push by the historic institution to be more representative.
‘This is not being “woke”; it is being more representative. Oxbridge did not represent the UK and it should,’ she said.
More than half of college principals at Cambridge are now women.
Ms Byrne went on to praise Cambridge’s five new heads of colleges, which this year are made up of two women, one black man, a gay man and a lieutenant-general – which she said showed a push by the historic institution to be more representative (Pictured: Cambridge University file photo)
After being approached and interviewed for her new position, Ms Byrne told Murray Edwards College that she wanted to be its president because she believed the mostly white men in positions of power had botched the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
‘For me a key reason I was interested in this job was that during Covid I felt that the government and the people running our major institutions were not fit for purpose,’ she said.
‘The people running our institutions are not good enough. There must be a lot of talent out there but it is not coming through.’
Her college is one of 13 at Cambridge which from 2022 will take on 50 students with lower A-level results – typically three Bs – from poorer backgrounds and place them on a foundation year in preparation for a full degree.
Ms Byrne previously landed herself in hot water while at Channel 4 when she dubbed Boris Johnson a ‘known liar’ in 2019 and compared him to Vladimir Putin.
She has also been outspoken on sexual harassment and ageism in the TV industry.
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