Oxford don criticises Simon Hughes on Radio 4

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Sunday 27 November 2011 9.36am
Waiting for BH at 9am on Radio 4 this morning I caught Point of View at 8:50am and the mention of Simon Hughes caught my ear.


Professor Mary Beard criticises Simon Hughes for suggesting interviews for entry to Oxford should be taken out of the hands of academics and instead be conducted by professionals. She was clearly irritated by the views of Mr Hughes as she mentioned him directly and indirectly several times.
"Just for the record Mr Hughes we do have interview training."

Mind you some of the questions posed to students seemed a bit odd.
Q. How do you know California exists if you've never seen it.
Q. Would you rather be a banana or an apple.
Sunday 27 November 2011 10.18am
I'm not sure either Beard or Hughes deserve much respect but the first question is good.
Sunday 27 November 2011 11.27am
The banana/apple question is presumably a variation on the question "would you rather be a seedless watermelon or a watermelon with seeds?". Commercially produced bananas are seedless, but apples aren't.

It's a very interesting question. Being able to understand why it's an interesting question and to construct an argument one way or another are the skills they are looking for. Questions like this test thinking skills in a way that secondary school exams rarely do.

The thought of HR specialists taking over admission is terrifying. They already dominate professional recruitment with intellectually bogus psychometric tests that would make most academics cringe.

To be honest, though, I didn't get especially interesting questions in any of my university interviews.
Sunday 27 November 2011 5.06pm
No, I would rather not be an apple or a banana. Thank you.
Sunday 27 November 2011 5.27pm
When I was interviewed by Mary Beard (she's a Cambridge don) she didn't ask any questions like that. I wish she had as it might have gone better.
Sunday 27 November 2011 7.43pm
If the "professionals" were going to teach the successful candidates at interview, then fine.

But since the "academics" are the people who will spend years tutoring the applicants, it makes sense that they have some input into the selection process. (Exam results presumably also being taken into account and government quota-systems, too).

What next, voters being replaced by "professionals" to help them select better MPs ?
Monday 28 November 2011 1.50pm
For some subjects exam results alone are impossible to use since everyone applying to Oxbridge will be predicted to get the top grades. I was at Cambridge and for my subject (engineering) all 12 students at my college had all A grades. For engineering the equivalent to the apparently 'odd' question used for arts subjects is to take an interviewee through an engineering problem that is impossible to solve with A-level knowledge and see how they cope/how quickly they understand the solution when it is taught. A "professional" interviewer simply could not do this - they would not have the knowledge or the teaching skills for it to work.

My non-technical interview had a good question, which was bascially along the lines of "If you throw a brick out of a boat into the water then what happens to the water line."
Monday 28 November 2011 4.20pm
I went to the LSE and i recall the interviewer asking me whether i believed the ideas of Karl Marx were workable in a modern capitalist society. The result was a heated debate but much more preferable to the questions above from my view point.

The civil service also asked queestions in their interviews to get a reaction-i remeber being asked if i beleived in reinstating the death sentance-this was to see if you could hold your own in an arguement.

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