A leaked document from the University of Manchester criticices the government target of getting half of all people into university. Vice-Chancellor Alan Gilbert said:
rooted in the rise of ‘mass’ higher education nationally and internationally, and in a long history of policy and funding compromises that have placed universities under inexorable pressures to do more for less
I thought this was obvious, that it would be hard for Universities to maintain standards while having to educate more people. Obviously if you admit the top 50%, not the top 30% the average will fall, but it is the strain on resources that also affects everyone admitted.
Strangely this target, which Labour see as fighting ‘elitism’ is based on a very elitist view – the view that a University education is better than a job, apprenticeship or anything else. Why else is it better for more people to go to university. It is hard for me to criticise having spent a long time in education but I followed an academic subject where education is training for work. Many kids are being encouraged into universities when it might not suit them, leaving with a qualification but little useful knowledge, and of course, a large pile of debt.
Elitism is not a bad thing. Wanting the best to do their best is admirable. And that is achieved not by having a higher percentage of people attending univeristies, but by having a higher percentage able to attend. Gordon Brown talks of ‘unlocking talent’ and he talks the right talk, but doesn’t necessarily act on it.
Widening University access is best done by a succesful lower education sector, not forcing universities to accept under equipped children because of their backgrounds (apparently UCAS forms now require you to state how many of your parents went to university). If you want kids from a poor background to get a good education, why not:
Reduce the targets based culture that leads to ‘teaching to the test’ and only children on the borderline of targets being helped.
Reduce central government inteference in schools.
Don’t replace government inteference with Teachers Unions, but with greater parental control.
Get discipline back in schools, make teachers truly in loco parentis.
Bring back grammar schools to help poor kids get an academic education.
Just a few ideas for you their Mr Brown.