Nick Clegg is wrong on Oxbridge and free school lunches

by Stephen Tall on April 5, 2011

An otherwise intelligently realistic article jointly authored by Nick Clegg and Iain Duncan Smith in today’s Telegraph is let down by a glaring inaccuracy:

Millions of children have doors closed to them. One in five qualify for school meals – but they make up fewer than one in 100 students at Oxbridge.

Quite simply this isn’t true (at least for the ‘Ox’ part of Oxbridge).

At Oxford, there are currently 930 undergraduate students from households with an income below £16,000, one of the key qualifying criteria for free school meals. The total UK and EU undergraduate population at Oxford is c.10,300 — which means almost 10 per cent of current undergraduates at the University of Oxford come from households eligible for free school meals. This compares with 15% of secondary school pupils currently eligible for free school meals.

If you want to understand how the one-in-a-hundred figure achieved currency, here’s Channel 4’s Fact-Check — which fails to get to the facts, but does at least give us the history of this inaccurate statistic.

None of this is to say Oxford doesn’t still have a job to do in ensuring all students with talent are encouraged to apply. But that job is made that much harder every time politicians repeat inaccurate statistics which make out that the University is an unapproachable ivory tower.