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The present article revisits Turner’s (1960) suggestion that English education reflects an ideal-typical sponsored mobility folk norm by looking at entry to one elite higher education institution, the University of Oxford. The article concludes that undergraduate admissions to Oxford closely resembles a contest-mobility system. However, just as there is an element of sponsorship in the US higher education system with regards to race (Grodsky 2007), there is also some sponsorship in Oxford admissions. The present article terms this ‘adjustment sponsorship’ and argues that adjustments are made by type of secondary school attended. Whereas compensatory sponsorship addresses a previous wrong – racial disadvantages in the US context – adjustment sponsorship is a way of adjusting for different academic potential to achieve highly at university. In the English case, adjustment sponsorship occurs by type of school where evidence shows that the same secondary school grades achieved by those educated in private as compared with state schools mask different potential to achieve first-class degrees at selective universities. In both, the US and England, the element of sponsorship – compensatory and adjustment sponsorship respectively – enhance the legitimacy of the contest norm and resulting inequalities.


  • University admission
  • social stratification
  • mobility modes
  • private schooling
  • Ralph Turner
Anna Mountford-Zimdars
This is the latest publication of the author on cairn.
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