Oxford pair quit over 'degree for cash' row


Two Oxford University academics resigned last night after accusations that they were offering places in return for cash.

The Rev John Platt and Mary-Jane Hilton, both fellows at Pembroke College, are to leave their posts 'with immediate effect', the university said.

The resignations followed a Sunday newspaper report that the college was prepared to create an extra place on an undergraduate law course in return for a £300,000 donation.

Mr Platt told an undercover reporter posing as a banker that an application from his son would be looked on 'extremely favourably' if a donation was made.

He also admitted in a taped conversation that it was not the first time students had been granted places in return for gifts.

Mr Platt had told the undercover reporter that Pembroke needed the money as it was 'poor as s***'.

The college's chief fundraiser Miss Hilton suggested the 'banker' set up a trust fund so the gift would not appear to be in his name.

A statement released by Pembroke said the resignations were with immediate effect and the two had severed all links with the college.

It said: 'Both agreed that they were acting without authority in connection with the matters referred to, and for this reason the resignations which they offered were accepted.'

Giles Henderson, the master of Pembroke, added: 'The speed and decisiveness with which the college has acted on this serves to underline Pembroke's commitment to the selection of students being made solely on the basis of academic merit and potential.'

Mr Henderson said the allegations made in the Sunday Times had been 'deeply shocking and totally unacceptable'.

The scandal will reignite the row over university elitism begun by Gordon Brown's criticism of Oxford over its rejection of Tyneside comprehensive pupil Laura Spence.

Then the university mounted a staunch defence of its admissions process, claiming places were awarded solely on merit. Oxford vicechancellor Dr Colin Lucas said last night he was 'appalled' by the allegations.

He added: 'I commend Pembroke College for its speedy and appropriate action in this case and its commitment to review its procedures for ensuring that all admissions decisions and business are conducted only by those authorised to do so.

'There must only be one criterion for winning a place at Oxford, and that is individual excellence.'

Mr Platt has devoted much of his life to the college, from which he graduated in the 1950s.

One former student said: 'He is essentially Mr Pembroke. He is popular, well known to all the students and, very unusually for a don, actually goes to students' sports matches and social events. The college is his entire life.'

Mr Platt - the college chaplain, theology tutor and schools liaison officer - was last night not at his Oxford home and neighbours said they had not seen him for three days.

Education Secretary Estelle Morris, speaking before the resignations were made public, said of the scandal: 'This is unacceptable. It flies in the face of what we are all trying to achieve.'

No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now