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Cambridge University should take 93% of students from state schools says new college president

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Cambridge University should get 93% of its students from state schools, while those studying at Eton, for example, ‘should travel north to meet more diverse people’.

That’s the verdict of Dorothy Byrne, 69, who this week began her new role as president of Murray Edwards College for Women Only in Cambridge.

The former head of news and current affairs at Channel 4 said the proportion of state-educated students in Cambridge should match British society – which sees 93% of pupils attend state schools and colleges.

She added that privately-trained students “need to overcome their obsession” to go to Oxford or Cambridge.

Her comments have irritated private school leaders, with one association representing 600 institutions accusing Ms Byrne of promoting ‘bias’, adding that Cambridge should attract ‘the best of the best’.

Dorothy Byrne (pictured), 69, said the proportion of state-educated students in Cambridge should suit British society – which sees 93% of pupils attend state and colleges

Mrs Byrne told the Time: ‘Students from Eton would be very lucky to get into the universities of Manchester and Sheffield.

“Maybe it’s good for them. They could travel north which may come as a shock to some and meet more diverse people.

‘I would think Boris Johnson and David Cameron would have benefited from going to Sheffield University’ [rather than Oxford].’

Ms Byrne, who has studied in both Manchester and Sheffield, said the ideal intake of state-educated students at Cambridge would be 93%.

She added: ‘I understand this means fewer students from public public schools such as Eton, Harrow and Westminster will go to Cambridge, but luckily there are over 100 fantastic other universities for private students to go to and when they going to those places has the added benefit of meeting people who are nothing like them.”

Her comments come because about 72 percent of students starting Cambridge this year come from state schools — the highest percentage in its 812-year history and an increase from last year’s 70.6 percent.

The figure has been steadily rising in recent years, rising from 58.6 percent in 2011.

But Ms Byrne’s suggestion to greatly increase the grade has been criticized by private schools.

Neil Roskilly, vice president of the Independent Schools Association, which represents 600 fee-paying schools, said: ‘You could imagine Cambridge would be interested in the best of the best.

Ms. Byrne has just started her new role as president of Murray Edwards College for women only in Cambridge (pictured)

Ms. Byrne has just started her new role as president of Murray Edwards College for women only in Cambridge (pictured)

‘That is in the interest of the university and the country as a whole.

“Any bias against certain sections of society should not be welcome. Selection should be on academic merit alone and not on any perceived bias against any section of society.

‘Cambridge should come up with background-blind selection procedures.

‘The closer we get to a background-blind admissions system, the better. [Byrne] shouldn’t mention individual schools.’

Ms Byrne praised Cambridge’s five new colleges this year, which consist of two women, a black man, a gay man and a lieutenant general — which she said was a push from the historic institution to be more representative.

‘This isn’t going to be ‘wake up’; it becomes more representative. Oxbridge did not and should not represent the UK,” she said.

More than half of Cambridge school principals are now women.

Ms Byrne further praised Cambridge's five new colleges, which this year will feature two women, a black man, a gay man and a lieutenant general — which she said was a push from the historic institution to be more representative (Pictured : Cambridge University file photo)

Ms Byrne further praised Cambridge’s five new colleges, which this year will feature two women, a black man, a gay man and a lieutenant general — which she said was a push from 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 run for president because she believed the predominantly white men in positions of power had messed up handling the Covid-19 pandemic.

“For me, a major reason I was interested in this job was that during Covid I felt that the government and the people running our large institutions were not fit for purpose,” she said.

“The people who run our institutions are not good enough. There must be a lot of talent, but it’s not coming through.’

Her university is one of 13 in Cambridge, which from 2022 will take 50 students with lower A levels – usually three Bs – from poorer backgrounds and place them in a foundation year in preparation for a full degree.

Ms Byrne previously found herself in hot water at Channel 4 when she called Boris Johnson a ‘known liar’ in 2019 and compared him to Vladimir Putin.

She has also been outspoken about sexual harassment and ageism in the TV industry.

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