Foreign ministers of Commonwealth countries agreed at their meeting in London yesterday to put the issue of Zimbabwe “on the agenda” for future consideration by the Commonwealth.

There will be another meeting in late January to see how things are getting on in President Mugabe's benighted country - by which time the elections at which Mugabe is seeking a renewed term of office will be only a few weeks away and, if present trends are anything to go by, the opposition and its supporters will have been frightened if not beaten into submission. In an interview after yesterday's meeting Jack Straw sought to deflect critical questioning about the lack of action on Zimbabwe by emphasising that the Commonwealth is not the British Empire under a different name and is not even the British Commonwealth - but a community of fifty-four independent nations which once were colonies of Britain.

The implication of this emphasis was that the leading nations of the Commonwealth South Africa in particular - are not ready to issue any public warning to Zimbabwe or to consider suspending its membership of the Commonwealth on the grounds that the rule of law is no longer being upheld and that free and fair elections cannot take place in such circumstances.

This matter has been “on the agenda” in real terms for dispossessed white farmers, for the browbeaten supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, for the harassed media and for the judges and lawyers who have incurred Mr Mugabe's displeasure.

They must all wonder when this agenda item will lead to any moral or practical help for the brave stand they are taking against Mugabe's despotism.

Ray Fleming

Oxford entry troubles

The authorities of Oxford University must be begining to wonder whether they can ever win in the continuing debate about their admissions policy. Two years ago Gordon Brown said the system was an “absolute scandal” when it refused entry to the comprehensive school educated Helen Spence although Harvard was ready to take her. Now criticism of the system comes from a prominent City banker, Philip Keevil, whose son was recently refused entry because his GCSE results, although good, were not good enough. Mr Keevil has resigned as co-chairman of Trinity College's fundraising committee and of two other fundraising bodies for the University.

Over the past fifteen years Mr Keevil has personally donated £100'000 to Trinity and says that he believed there would be a “slight bias” towards a candidate “whose family has been generous”. For good measure he said that Harvard operated such a policy. The President of Trinity, Michael Beloff, replied that “the age of 'Founders' Kin' is long past. The American model may be appropriate for a private university, not for an institution supported by public funds”. Oxford's problem seems to be the ever-increasing number of highly qualified students who want to gain entry.

One solution under consideration is the so-called World Class tests, also known as Advance Extension Awards, which applicants would be invited to take as a further stage in the process of selection.



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