In an article in the Telegraph, 28/12/12, Chris Ramsey, co-chairman of the HMC/GSA universities sub-committee comments on the announcement that university admissions quotas are to be reviewed following protests.
Under rules introduced last year, universities wanting to charge higher tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year are expected to recruit more low-income students, with their attendance at state school being one of the major criteria.
Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, suggested that tutors should be willing to offer places to students from state schools on the basis of lower A-level grades than they would require from privately educated candidates. The reforms provoked protests from elite universities and leading independent schools. Head teachers accused the Government of pursuing a “Communist-style” agenda of social engineering, while about half of Britain’s leading universities boycotted the state school target this year.
Critics said it was not possible to make a “crude” judgment that the poorest pupils always attended state schools while the richest were privately educated.
With the economic downturn forcing an increasing number of middle-class parents to turn to top state schools, especially grammar schools, for their child’s education, filling university places from such schools would render the targets pointless, they say.
Ministers indicated that the targets could be scrapped in light of the furore. “It’s a fair criticism and we probably need to look at it,” said a senior government source.
The source insisted that it was right for universities to take account of a candidate’s background using “contextual data”. This could include whether they lived in a deprived area, or attended a poorly-performing school.
However, the idea of considering whether a candidate was state or privately educated should be reviewed, the source said.
The Government’s watchdog on university admissions, the Office for Fair Access to higher education, has already toned down the Coalition’s original language. In guidance issued this year, it said targets should be based on school type “or performance”.
Many universities and private schools have no objection to making allowances for students from weak schools who achieved good grades.
Their key complaint has been over the Government’s decision to make distinctions between the independent and state education systems.
Nadhim Zahawi, a Conservative member of the Commons skills select committee, said the state school target was “too crude”. “It is much more complicated than that. It would be right to review the target,” he said.
Chris Ramsey, co-chairman of the universities committee of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, said he would welcome a review.
“These targets assume that everybody who goes to an independent school is of one social type and everybody who goes to a state school is of a different social type,” he said.
An Oxford University spokesman said it was “misleading” to treat all state school pupils as disadvantaged. “Our goal is to increase access for under-represented groups. We are not convinced that using school type is the best means to that end,” he said.
By Tim Ross, Telegraph. Click here to read the article © The Telegraph