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It is a Cambridge college anxious to show it is open to the brightest from all backgrounds. So when applicants were confronted by student pranksters telling them state school pupils need not apply, authorities failed to see the funny side.Three undergraduates face disciplinary action after dressing up in smart Eton suits and telling teenagers lined up for an interview at Jesus College that only public school pupils were allowed in.
The applicants must have been anxious enough already as they prepared to try to convince dons that they were worthy of a coveted place at a college whose celebrated alumni include royalty, archbishops and senior politicians.
Their nerves must have been further shredded when second year undergraduates infiltrated their waiting room to play a joke on them – which fell flat after they were spotted by invigilators and the college Dean was informed.
Those responsible for the prank are believed to have been told not to return to Jesus this term and are awaiting formal punishment.
Some fellow undergraduates appear to have been tickled by the stunt, with a Facebook posting about it receiving 158 “likes”.
One of those involved appears to have been unrepentant.
A post on his page of the social networking site reading: “This evening in Jesus… ‘I got Dean’d today. And, all we did is dress up in suits and pretend to be interviewees… We said we were from Eton’.”
However one Jesus first-year student, who did not wish to be named, said: “I can’t believe anyone would want to shake up applicants like that. They were in the same position once.”
Cambridge University spends more than £2.7 million a year on hundreds of schemes aimed at persuading students from less privileged backgrounds to apply.
In September, it revealed that there were almost 200 fewer freshers from fee-paying students starting than the year before – a decline of 5% and a 30-year low.
Jesus College, founded in 1496, boasts alumni including Prince Edward, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Thomas Cranmer, the first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury.
Today, its website says that it is “committed to academic excellence, offering talented students, whatever their means, the advantages of a first-rate system of education”.
The college confirmed yesterday that three students were facing disciplinary action as a result of the prank, described by Dr Geoff Parks, the Senior Tutor, as “stupidity”.
He said: “Three undergraduate members of Jesus College caused a disturbance in the area where a number of applicants were waiting for interview.
“This disturbance was cut short by the prompt intervention of other undergraduates who were acting as helpers during the interview process.
“The College condemns this stupidity. The Dean of College is investigating the incident and will in due course decide what disciplinary action is appropriate.
“Applicants will not be disadvantaged as a result of this incident.”
Leading universities have been ordered to widen their intake with the Government setting up the Office for Fair Access to try to ensure that working-class students are not deterred by tuition fees of up to £9,000.
Professor Les Ebdon, who has the power to fine institutions £500,000 or ban them from charging tuition fees of more than £6,000 a year, has threatened “nuclear” penalties if they miss their targets.
He has also criticised the “patchy” record of leading Russell Group universities at increasing the number of students they take from state schools and poor areas.