Drop Oxbridge admission interviews, academic suggests

The tradition of interviewing candidates for Oxbridge should be scrapped unless it can be shown to predict how well students do in their degrees, according to an Oxford University academic. This is from the Telegraph…

The validity of Oxford’s system of interviews, notorious for unexpected questions which leave nervous teenagers floundering, has been challenged by a senior member of the university, who has called for their abolition.

Professor Miles Hewstone, a social psychology tutor and a fellow of New College, has broken ranks to say that the admissions system does not necessarily guarantee that the best candidates are chosen.

Criticism of the interview tradition has generally come from outside the institutions from those who want to increase the number of state school educated and poorer students at Oxford and Cambridge.

They claim interviews favour privately educated candidates who have been coached in how to deal with question such as: “Here is a cactus, tell me about it?” and “Ladybirds are red. So are strawberries. Why?”.

Defenders say interviews test a student’s ability to think flexibly and can give those from less privileged backgrounds, who may have weaker academic records, a chance to show potential.

But Prof Hewstone, who is involved in selecting candidates, now claims that the system used by the Coptic Church to choose its new Pope, where a blindfolded boy draws lots from a bowl containing the names of three candidates, could be better than the current method of selecting Oxbridge students.

“Oxbridge admission tutors are, uniquely, committed to interviewing all their best candidates,” he said. “Should be we doing this or would we be better off putting the short-listed candidates names in a bowl and seeking the services of a blindfolded boy?”.

The professor, who admits to rejecting candidates who have gone on to gain top degrees, said that interviews should be scrapped if they can not be shown to predict how well students will do in their studies.

“We should commit to a scientific assessment of our decision-making that looks at the predictive validity of each piece of information we currently use. If we find that interviews do not improve our decision-making, we should drop them.”

He cites research from America which shows that college admission officers were worse at predicting applicants’ eventual attainment when performance in interviews, as well as test scores and grades, were used.

Oxford and Cambridge are the only universities in England to interview all shortlisted candidates, with about 20,000 students vetted each year.

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