BBC defends University Challenge after accusations of Oxbridge bias
THE BBC has defended its University Challenge quiz show after being accused of having a “grotesque” Oxbridge bias by a professor.
In a series of complaints, Frank Coffield – an emeritus professor of education at University College London – said the show breaks impartiality rules and perpetuates elitism by allowing all the colleges from Oxford and Cambridge to compete separately while other major universities across the UK are only allowed one entry each.
The long-running show typically includes at least 10 entries from Oxbridge colleges with the remaining 18 places going to other universities.
Coffield said other institutions were treated as “second-class” by the BBC and has urged the National Union of Students to boycott the show unless the corporation changes its rules to limit each university or other degree-awarding body to one entry.
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The BBC’s complaints service replied by defending the rules of the competition, which it said allowed all degree-level independent education institutions to apply to enter.
In one letters Coffield wrote: “Each of the 70-plus Oxbridge colleges [even those with only 300/400 students] is allowed to compete in University Challenge, but huge civic universities like Manchester and Birmingham [with upwards of 40,000 students] are allowed only one entry each. What justification has the BBC for rigging the programme in this way?”
In another, he said: “Why has the BBC allowed the format of this programme to treat all other universities in the UK apart from Oxbridge as second class?”
The BBC replied to this concerns saying: “All education institutions that design and deliver teaching towards university level qualifications are welcome to apply to University Challenge independently.
“This is not limited to Oxbridge colleges, but also includes around 300 colleges of further and higher education across the UK, several member institutions of the University of London, and a number of UK conservatoires and art schools.”
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Coffield – who is also a visiting professor at Sunderland - said he was not satisfied with this response because the BBC did not explain why all the Oxbridge colleges were deemed as separate establishments.
He said: “It still does not explain why more than 70 Oxbridge colleges are treated as separate universities. You don’t get a Christchurch College university degree but an Oxford degree. My main criticism still stands and the BBC is avoiding answering it.”
“The balance is grotesque, inequitable and indefensible.”
Oxbridge colleges have won the competition 27 times in the previous 51 series.
“Obviously, if you have 10 raffle tickets out of a total of 28, you are more likely to win prizes than if you have one,” Coffield said.
“Could it perhaps be that the corporation has been run by successions of Oxbridge graduates who’ve turned a blind eye to this inequity? The rules of University Challenge were set originally to continue the dominance by Oxbridge of our cultural and intellectual life and to protect the unjustifiable advantages of elites.
“Ever since, those rules have been retained to pass the advantages on to the next generation.”