Sitting down with an applicant gives academics a chance to assess how this student’s mind works, to ask questions that they haven’t been drilled for. It allows them to use their professional discretion in choosing to make, say, a lower offer to a pupil from an underperforming school who in the interview demonstrates that they have huge amounts off potential despite not having stellar exam results.
Hughes’ criticism appears to be that the interview gives a chance for ‘bonding between a prospective student and their prospective teacher’. But it is this bond — and the fact that academics feel personally responsible for those that they’ve admitted — that helps keeps the quality of teaching so high at Oxbridge. If dons were just handed a group of students picked by an educational bureaucrat, they wouldn’t feel the same sense of responsibility for their progress. David Willetts needs to stamp on this idea. For if Hughes get his way, it will become far more likely that top universities will decide that staying public is just not worth the hassle.