In a Scottish school with no record of Oxbridge preparation, and a different curriculum and tests from the English system, the then-standard Oxford entrance exam felt insurmountable. But the pioneering conditional offers scheme included a particular focus on facilitating access from Scottish schools. This made Hertford one of only two colleges at the time offering me an attainable prospect, without reference to gender (that was important), of an Oxford education.
My degree unlocked my future not by opening doors in itself but in what it did to my outlook. My career so far has been in central government, in both law and justice/constitution policy, and I have loved all its political dramas, intellectual excitement, and sheer scale and variety. More, I have keenly appreciated the freedoms, privileges and responsibilities of public service, and of organisational leadership. Looking back at the Tanner Scheme from that perspective, its real significance lies not in the competitive edge it gave colleges like Hertford in the admissions market, not in improving Oxford’s reputation as an engine of merit-based social mobility (still work in progress), and not even in the rightness of extending precious educational opportunities to those most capable of benefiting from them and of benefiting others in turn. Together with the early lead the college took in admitting women, the real genius of the Tanner Scheme was the opportunity it gave Hertford to develop as an enriched academic community. Students learn not only from tutors (the legendary and charismatic Roy Stuart in my case), but from each other – and a genuinely diverse and mind-broadening range of perspectives adds up to a far more stretching and enlivening educational experience than the monocultural alternatives of the day could offer.
That’s a lesson in leadership from Neil Tanner. I remember him very warmly, and I’ve kept some brilliant, different, inspirational, life-enhancing friends from college – the best legacy of all.