David Willetts would of course be impossible without Margaret Thatcher, and the massive growth in student numbers and freeing up of academia (with which Thatcher had, let’s not forget, a mixed relationship) have transformed universities, largely for the better ... but ‘tribal loyalty’ still operates too. The occasional student might jump ship from Birmingham to Brunel or Manchester to Glasgow, but by and large students belong to their institutions, and by and large these institutions still genuinely have excellence, not money, at heart. Students still don’t largely think they are consumers (pace the rhetoric of the Student Loans Company), and most in my experience actually still think in terms of the intrinsic (social) value of study (whatever the new president of the NUS might claim) as well as their self interest in becoming more employable.
So to paraphrase one of Mrs Thatchers famous speeches: some commentators would like universities to discriminate positively in favour of state school pupils; others think it is the case that they prioritise these pupils unfairly; many think that the sector in which you are educated defines you as an applicant. No, no, no.
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