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University stresses admissions are 'on merit' after discrimination claims.
A NORTH-EAST university has insisted that students are admitted on merit after being caught up in a row over alleged discrimination against applicants from fee-paying schools.
Durham University was identified by The Daily Telegraph as one of 11 universities that want to increase admissions from state schools over the next five years.
It followed comments by Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council, who said the creation of targets by leading universities that discriminated between state and private school pupils was "wrong" and risked favouring children from middle-class comprehensives at the expense of children from independent schools.
Mr Lenon, writing in the Times Educational Supplement, claimed that this approach "fails to identify the most disadvantaged children".
While some leading universities, such as Oxford University, has ruled out similar targets, Durham Universitys access agreement - filed with the Governments Office for Fair Access the document - states: "The specific target is to promote fair access to Durham by increasing applications from students from state schools."
The document states that the university will make efforts to reach "the most able, least likely to apply, disadvantaged students from targeted areas".
In the same document Durham University sets out its target of increasing the proportion of young entrants from state schools from the current level of 60.5 per cent to 62 per cent by 2015-16.
The move was welcomed by the outgoing headteacher at Durham Johnston School in Durham City, Carolyn Roberts.
Speaking after last weeks A level results - which saw 36 per cent of pupils at her state school gain three or more A or A* A-levels - Mrs Roberts said; "At a time when young people from state schools are shockingly under-represented at the most competitive universities we are pleased to be able to play our part in creating a more just society."
Professor Tom Ward, pro-vice-chancellor (education) said: "The University has a fair and transparent admissions policy which is designed to recruit the most able and most motivated students who can best benefit from a Durham University education. Every application is important to us and we welcome applications from all students irrespective of background.
"The University adopts a holistic approach to its assessment of merit and potential, including the use of information about the context of prior academic achievement. Nonetheless, academic achievement remains the most important factor in determining which applicants receive an offer of a place."
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