The universities secretary John Denham has complained that top universities are biased against state schools when it comes to admissions. As evidence for this, Denham pointed out that it is generally the case that the better a university is, the fewer of its students were educated at state schools.
However, while this is undoubtedly the case, Denham makes the classic leftist mistake (also made when discussing supposed racist or sexist discrimination) and assumes that inequality of outcome proves the existence of discrimination. In fact, in cases where widespread discrimination on the basis of background has been alleged it has almost always been the case that admissions tutors were engaging in "positive" discrimination against those from private schools, and sometimes also against those from high-performing state schools. And does anyone really believe that academics, who tend overwhelmingly to hold left-wing views, are deliberately refusing to offer candidates places based in whole or in part on the fact that they do not come from a well-off background?
What John Denham might like to consider is, that it is the poor quality of the education that many of those from the poorest backgrounds are receiving in state schools that lies behind their failure to achieve places at elite universities. The fact is, that while there are excellent state schools and appallingly bad private schools, state schools do tend, on average, to be worse (with the distinguished exception of grammar schools, which are usually better). Those that educate pupils from the poorest background are often the worst of all, in terms of both basic teaching quality, and school discipline. As such, it is almost certain that if you have two newborn babies of equal ability, and you send one off to the Dragon and Eton and the other off to a state primary where the children carry knives, and a secondary school where they carry guns and deal drugs, then the first one will perform at a substantially higher level in his exams. Doing something to genuinely increase the standard of education at state schools (as opposed to increasing the number of state school pupils passing increasingly easy exams) might be the answer that Denham is looking for, if he wants to reduce the disproportionate number of the privately-educated at our best universities. But, of course, doing something useful is the difficult option for a Labour politician; it is far easier to play at class warfare and blame someone else.