UCL professor claims BBC ‘hiding’ Oxbridge bias on University Challenge

·2-min read

The BBChas been accused of “hiding” an alleged Oxbridge bias on University Challenge by a professor at University College London.

Professor Frank Coffield is calling for each university to be limited to one entry each on the quiz show, after penning a series of complaints claiming that the format is “rigged” towards elitist colleges.

University Challenge currently allows separate Oxford and Cambridge colleges to enter the contest while limiting other universities to one entry each.

In a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the BBC, Durham-based Mr Coffield asked the broadcaster to reveal exactly how many teams from Oxford or Cambridge had appeared on the show since 1994, when Jeremy Paxman became quizmaster of the revived version, according to the Guardian.

But the BBC rejected his request.

Mr Coffield told the Guardian he is suspicious of the BBC’s decision to withhold information.

“What has it got to hide? Quite a lot, I suspect. The director general, Tim Davie, said that ‘impartiality is the cornerstone’ of the organisation, so why does it keep chipping away at it with a rigged format?”

He then called on Mr Davie to “disown this shameful snobbery” and allow Oxford and Cambridge one entry each “from now on”.

He also asked for a response to his FOI request.

The show’s website reveals that on average more than 10 of the 28 teams to have competed in the quiz in the last nine series were Oxbridge colleges.

The current series has eight Oxbridge colleges.

In a previous complaint, Mr Coffield 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,” the Guardian reports.

A BBC spokesperson told the Standard: “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.

“We actively encourage a variety of educational institutions to apply to University Challenge and welcome greater diversity on the show.

“There’s no secret as to who’s been on University Challenge over the years, as the programme has been televised.”

The FOI request asked for 29 years’ worth of information which would have exceeded cost and time limits, the BBC said.

The first ever episode of University Challenge aired on ITV in 1962. It was hosted by the late Bamber Gascoigne until 1987.

The BBC revived it in 1994 with Jeremy Paxman in the chair.

The next series in October will be presented by its third quizmaster, Amol Rajan, who is taking over from Mr Paxman after 28 years.

All three presenters attended Cambridge colleges.