Questioning by leading academics amid the spires of Oxford and Cambridge has become a legendary hurdle in the competition to win a place at Britain’s most prestigious universities.
However, at both universities, colleges have announced they plan to continue with online interviews that began during the pandemic.
All Oxford colleges are conducting interviews online this year. Only Trinity College at Cambridge has said it will return to in-person interviews this year for UK pupils.
Cambridge Students’ Union has criticised the plans. It told Varsity, the student newspaper, that “giving applicants the opportunity to decide the format of their interview themselves would be the single best way to ensure the Cambridge interview process is accessible for all”.
“Some people will feel more comfortable at home or school, whereas others will want the chance to come to Cambridge in person; there’s no concrete evidence that proves either format is better.”
‘Purely practical’ reasons for online
A university spokesman said that interviews were being conducted online for “purely practical” reasons. He said that Trinity College will be “reporting back on how well” its return to in-person interviews goes and said that “no student will be disadvantaged by these decisions”.
A spokesman for Oxford University said its decision followed “the success of online interviews during the pandemic and consultation across the collegiate university”.
Prior to the pandemic, candidates were typically invited to stay overnight in December at the Oxbridge college they applied to while they were interviewed by different tutors. One Oxford don previously told The Telegraph that conducting interviews online “certainly saves a lot of money feeding candidates and the colleges get an extra week of conference trade, which keeps the bursars happy”. Others have said that conducting interviews online can reduce the stress of the experience for some pupils.
UK universities have been reluctant to fully return to pre-pandemic conditions, with some Russell Group institutions still providing online lectures and exams.
First-year students arriving at Bath University for the start of the academic year have found out that as much as a third of their lectures this semester will be hosted online.
Tuning into lectures from bedrooms
The Telegraph has seen the timetable of one economics student who was concerned to learn that he would be spending around five hours a week tuning in to lectures alone from his bedroom.
Dr Matteo De Tina, director of teaching for undergraduate programmes at the university, said in an email that the economics department had been asked to design a “hybrid timetable” to “allow an efficient use of campus spaces”. He also confirmed that lecturers were allowed to work from home if they were delivering lectures remotely.
The mother of the concerned student, who did not want to be named, said: “How is this allowed to happen at a university that prides itself on delivering a first-class service to its students and has been ranked as such? He is 18 years old, emerging from a world in lockdown, with almost no voice or power to question this.” She said that the university had not advertised that some classes would be conducted online before her son arrived.
UsForThem, a parents’ campaign group, has called for “full transparency” about course delivery to be enforced so that students can make better-informed choices about where they want to study.
A spokesperson for Bath University said: “Over the course of the economics undergraduate degree around 90 per cent of learning is delivered in-person on-campus. Our timetable is predominantly in-person, but allows for some student cohorts to have lectures delivered fully online, or by a mix of online and hybrid practices. In-person time is focused on interactive learning including seminars and group work. This approach provides pedagogical and inclusivity advantages.”