BBC’s University Challenge is accused of treating non-Oxbridge institutions as ‘second class’ in elitism row over ‘rigged’ entry rules
- The BBC has been accused of elitism over its University Challenge rules
- All colleges from Oxbridge and Cambridge are allowed to enter individually
The BBC has been accused of elitism over its ‘rigged’ University Challenge rules which treat non-Oxbridge universities as ‘second class.’
The show’s rules allow separate colleges from Oxford and Cambridge to enter while limiting all other universities to one team each.
The quiz show is in its 52nd series, with eight of its 28 teams from Oxford or Cambridge colleges.
The previous edition saw nine of the 28 entrants come from Oxbridge.
In a series of complaints to the BBC, Frank Coffield, emeritus professor of education at University College London, said the show’s ‘grotesque’ Oxbridge bias breaks the corporation’s impartiality rules and perpetuates elitism in the UK.
The rules of University Challenge allow separate colleges from Oxford and Cambridge to enter while limiting all other universities to one team each
Critics hit out at the ‘grotesque, inequitable and indefensible’ rules. Pictured: Former show host Jeremy Paxman
In one letter, Prof Coffield, who is also a visiting professor at Sunderland, 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 the programme’s format means non-Oxbridge institutions are treated as ‘second class’.
The BBC’s complaints service said in reply: ‘All institutions that deliver higher education courses at the level of bachelor’s degree or equivalent or higher are welcome to apply to take part on University Challenge.
‘Institutions are eligible and welcome to apply to University Challenge independently of each other.’
A BBC spokesman said: ‘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.’
The show’s three presenters, Bamber Gascoigne, Jeremy Paxman and Amol Rajan (pictured), who takes over in the autumn, all studied at Cambridge
But Prof Coffield told the Guardian: ‘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.’
In 2008, journalist and editor Rachael Jolley wrote in the New Statesmen about what she called the ‘deep inequality’ of the show’s format.
The show’s three presenters, Bamber Gascoigne, Jeremy Paxman and Amol Rajan, who takes over in the autumn, all studied at Cambridge.
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