University Challenge in elitism row over rigged entry rules

University Challenge team struggle with drag slang question

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University Challenge, hosted by Jeremy Paxman since 1994, sees two teams consisting of four individual members representing a single university. The BBC show has recently come under fire after it has been accused of rigging the rules which are not favourable to non-Oxbridge universities.

Show rules explain teams from Oxford and Cambridge enter independent teams, limiting all other universities to one team each.

Eight of its 28 teams have been from Oxford or Cambridge colleges, with the previous edition seeing nine of the 28 entries coming from Oxbridge.

The BBC has seen a series of complaints, with emeritus professor of education at University College London, Frank Coffield, saying the show has a “grotesque” bias that breaks the impartiality rules.

In one letter sent to the BBC the professor, who is also a visiting professor at Sunderland, 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.

“What justification has the BBC for rigging the programme in this way?” as he added the programme’s format means non-Oxbridge institutions are treated as “second class”.

Replying to the complaints, the BBC said: “All institutions that deliver higher education courses at the level of bachelor’s degree or equivalent or higher are welcome to apply to take part in University Challenge.

“Institutions are eligible and welcome to apply to University Challenge independently of each other.”

A BBC spokesman said: “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.”

Not happy with the reply from the BBC, Professor Coffield told The Guardian: “It still does not explain why more than 70 Oxbridge colleges are treated as separate universities.

“You don’t get a Christchurch college university degree but an Oxford degree. My main criticism still stands and the BBC is avoiding answering it.

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“The balance is grotesque, inequitable and indefensible.”

Viewers of the show have also questioned the fairness of the rules, accusing the broadcaster of not creating a level playing field.

Commenting on one episode, Twitter user Jonny Singer wrote: “I’m ten years too old to be on University Challenge and I suspect I’m younger than all of the UCL team…”

@TallNerdTV queried: “I’m sorry sir but you are far too old to be appearing on University Challenge. You might have fooled the BBC but you can’t fool me.”

@ali5on321 commented: “Salmon is impressive, but with age comes a lifetime of learning, it’s not a level playing field.”

@Kogg1962 added: “Unfair tonight on #UniversityChallenge Salmon on UCL team is surely a lecturer.”

@MrsHadenuff said: “Looks like Einstein was on pretending to be Salmon. Definitely fishy.” (sic)

University Challenge is on BBC Two Mondays at 8.30pm.

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