Oh well -- the goverment has won, and the educational system has lost: And some short-sighted academics will give a cheer.
Instead of a properly designed variably-funded educational system meeting clearly defined educational needs, MPs have voted for an educational free-for-all based on market forces, with little or no chance of a proper review for many years to come -- unless another party is elected soon.
Abstract (Added 25 Jan 2004)
The letter attempts to point out a number of fallacies in the debates presented so far, both for and against top-up fees, but above all stresses the need for a 'joined up' policy on post-school education, including the need to reintroduce something close to what used to be the distinction between universities (which would now probably have to be called research universities (RUs)) and polytechnics (perhaps now to be called polytechnic universities (PUs)) so that
The letter points out that one of the consequences of abolishing the distinction, exacerbated by steadily worsening staff/student ratios, has been a serious decline in standards of university teaching over the last decade. Many university teachers have been demoralised by a serious decline in the proportion of university students who are suited to the degree courses they are attending, which leads to a further decline in standards, which can seriously hold back the most able students -- this is tragic for them and for the nation.
The government target of 50% of students going to university makes no sense without a proper subdivision of the total between different sorts of university education. The number for research universities should be much lower. A worthwhile combined target could well be higher than 50%, especially taking into account the need to cater for people who do not immediately go into higher education but wish to do so later.
Both of these categories should be part of a range of types of post school education distinguished in the letter.
See also The Economist 23 Jan 2004, and the editorial comment. http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=2367332
Whilst I agree with her goal of increasing the proportions from lower socio-economic groups in universities, I think simply aiming for high target numbers in universities is not the way to do it, and neither is simply setting quotas for deprived social groups, for reasons given in my original letter.
Instead there should be well-funded 'catch up' opportunities to enable deprived youngsters, and late learners, with promise to show their mettle. When they have demonstrated that they are up to standard they can move from the catch-up courses to either Research Universities or Polytechnic universities, according to the level achieved. Any less discriminating approach will simply lower standards for everyone.
The 'Access' courses are supposed to do that, but I have no idea whether
they are properly funded for the job. I suspect not, judging by what I
found when I tried to explore this information site about access
For instance, I found nothing on financial support for deprived students who wished to catch up. Moreover, most of the courses seemed to be targeting potential students at Polytechnic universities, rather than helping deprived high-flyers fulfil their potential. Is this another well-intentioned but badly thought out initiative?
23 Jan 2004
Updated: 26 Jan 2004