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What will help less wealthy students get into top universities?

08:52 UK time, Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Young people from poorer families are still struggling to gain places at Britain's best universities, despite government efforts to widen participation. What's your experience?

Students from the wealthiest 20% of the population are seven times more likely to attend the UK's most selective universities than those from the most disadvantaged 40%. The Office for Fair Access (Offa) says this has not changed since the mid 1990s.

The Offa report identified several factors holding back bright disadvantaged students, including lower exam grades, a greater risk of making poor choices at GCSE level and a fear of applying to the top universities.

Are you a student from a disadvantaged background? Did you find it difficult when applying to university? What do you think would help other students from poorer backgrounds?

This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.

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  • Comment number 1.


  • Comment number 2.

    Let's see... An education system that teaches education, not political ideology, how to pass exams and encourages the student to learn would be a great start. Add to that exams that aren't 70% coursework that can be done by anyone, rewards hard work and actually doesn't reward failure. Then throw in a smattering of thoroughly grounding the 3 Rs, science and technology and you should end up with a load of students that universities would be fighting to accept.

    The idea that dumbing down the curriculum and exams will somehow help people with a disadvantaged background is fundamentally flawed. There are some who can, some who can't and that has nothing to do with social background. Setting 50% University attendance targets sets a false level of academic achivement, dumbs down curriculums to meet demand and devalues the qualification being sought.

    Saying that, bringing back free university education and grants would help enormously. Talk about a way of actually stopping people with a poorer background. Nice one New Labour!

  • Comment number 3.

    The top private schools such as Eaton & Harrow provide intensive coaching for their kids to give them the best possible chance in the Oxbridge entrance exam and interviews.

    Perhaps such coaching could be subsidised & made available to promising kids from poorer backgrounds?

  • Comment number 4.

    Drill it into most teenagers that you will make more money being a plumber than in a burger bar with a degree. then get rid of of all the pointless courses like surfing. media studies, dog walking. then make A-levels hard again that will all cut down numbers and give a better chance to poorer students with good A-level results.

  • Comment number 5.

    A few things you have to do that grants will not get around:

    Promote the fact that Oxbridge is not the exclusive playground of the rich.
    Persuade your target audience that their only limits are what they impose on themselves. There is a generation, still, of work class people who believe that university is not for them, that the local factory/Tescos etc is the limit of their ambition.

    After that, scrap the tuition fee, restore grants (properly) and forget that ridiculous target for getting 50% of young people into university.

  • Comment number 6.

    Perhaps educationalists are attacking the problem in the wrong place.

    It has been known for two centuries that "kindergarten" education benefits the children who attend. Of course, in the UK, they are now known as nurseries, playgroups or whatever, and, unfortunately, are synonymous with enabling a parent to go out to work. I believe the UK misses an important trick here, since structured education at an early age, alongside or tempered with play like behaviour, can improve the speed with which a child develops learning skills.

    So should we be encouraging suitably gifted teachers into "kindergarten" style education within state provision? After all, any educational establishment should want "superior" students, rather than "superior" bred students. We could then substantially reduce the number of universities in the knowledge that secondary school will turn out the best educated children for whatever future they wish to aspire to.

    And, of course, child care costs would be reduced too. Win-Win.

  • Comment number 7.

    I'm sorry to say but there really is a reason that low income families often remain low income, it's not just that they have less money but in that environment you will find more domestic issues, single parent homes, indifferent parents who couldn't care if their kids were learning or throwing bottles at a football match.

    If you trace things back it isn't just about children not going to University because they cannot afford it, it is just as much about them not going because they have never been in a supportive home environment. A recent study published by the BBC showed that as a whole children in middle income homes have a higher mental quality of living than those in lower.

    As for the tuition fees mess we have: I know someone who is the most clever talented individual I have met in a long time, they already have a first degree with which they have been offered a place at the best Vet school in the UK. Guess why they can't go? Because nobody can give them a loan sufficient to cover the cost of living. It is blatantly obvious this individual will pass and will go on to be a full vet, But, nobody will give them the money their parents can't afford to... so they have to choose a lesser institution.

    As for getting rid of tuition fees etc. I don't agree with that at all - and I am a student. I just think money should stop being thrown at Arts and Humanities courses as readily as it is at courses like Medicine and Engineering. With less people being encouraged to enter University to study pointless courses because you "need" a degree to get a job the government could start directing funding a bit better.

  • Comment number 8.

    Aspiration and hard work.

    Any person from any background can get a good education by working hard and wanting it enough.

    There is funding available from all the top universities to assit with fees and there are chances to complete degrees part-time.

    The real obstacles are parents that have no aspiration themselves and therefore do not instill any into their offspring; and the number of universities that have low entrance requirements to non-degrees. These degrees leave graduates with high debts and no job prospects.

  • Comment number 9.

    To get students from the WHOLE of society attending top universities solely on the basis of intellectual ability - which is what we ought to be aiming at, not some nonsense about enouraging one group to the disadvantage of everyone else - we need to start thus:

    1. Education that inspires learners to become the best that they can possibly be at whatever they choose to study.
    2. Support from early stages to empower wise course choices based on ability and aspiration to maximise success.
    3. The inculcation of a 'You can do it' ethos that shows the only barriers are a lack of effort or ability, not of disposable income.
    4. Proper funding for education at all levels so nobody feels that they cannot afford to learn.

  • Comment number 10.

    Access to so-called top universities should always be on merit regardless of social background. However, pupils at schools in deprived areas tend to be at a distinct disadvantage simply because of their peer group pressure which discourages excellence and encourages mediocre conformity. This could be tackled by schools having a modified version of University Challenge and pitting the pupils' brains in intellectual sport. This might throw up some pleasant surprises for teachers as well as pupils.

  • Comment number 11.

    Artificially promoting "disadvantaged" kids into our top universities will be self-defeating. You have to judge people on their grades, whatever extenuating circumstances resulting in them. If a desire for social engineering overrides this then standards will suffer for all involved.

  • Comment number 12.

    I agree with the comments of 2 and 3. In Scotland, for the time being, fees are paid by the Scottish Government,(thanks to the SNP). Perhaps England should also try this out for at least some of the more important subjects such as Engineering and science. I believe each young child has the potential to do well but it is their home and school environment that drags them down with low self esteem and expectations. Theres not always much you can do about the home but schools have to be better suited to enlightning the children. Even if that means seperating the brighter kids from the lesser achievers. The children that go private schools are told 'yes you can' while the vast majority of the poorer children are told no all their lives.

  • Comment number 13.

    My background:

    Council estate – Grammar School – Cambridge.

    This was in the 1970s.

    Spot the missing link.

  • Comment number 14.

    Philosophy lessons in all educational establishments!

  • Comment number 15.

    Well selective schools and assisted places to private schools

    Kids able to change schools at 8, 11, 13, and 16.

    The bog Standard Comp's just do not push ability, as long as you are above average then thats good enough.

  • Comment number 16.

    We don't need to improve access per se, that is no more than a stalking horse to obscure the unemployment figures of the last government, we need to improve the calibre of the A-level exams and the culture that makes pupils think they have a God given 'right' to go to university. Everyone can't be a winner - it's a nice notion but a pathetic fallacy nonetheless.

  • Comment number 17.

    Better schools.

    But that would help even with the 'lower ranks' of universities"

  • Comment number 18.

    Top universities have become wise to the drive for wider access and diversity by raising entrance requirements far beyond what a pupil in a state school is able to achieve. The average UCAS points for entry into Cambridge, for example, simply cannot be attained by a state school student getting even the highest grades in three A levels and an AS level.

    Russel Group universities give greater points weighting to the International Baccalaureate. In turn, many private schools offer the IB in preference to the standard A level. Consequently, affluent parents are able to effectively buy their children places on the most competitive courses at the top universities.

    Expect to see the situation deteriorate even further when the Tory government removes the cap on tuition fees, thereby allowing the country's top establishments to turn themselves into exclusive clubs for the upper-middle classes.

  • Comment number 19.

    What will help less wealthy students get into top universities?

    Oh I Dunno... maybe an education system based on gaining actual knowledge rather than rote learning & who has the most cash.

    Oh... and perhaps also aptitude tests based on the particular field of interest before enrolment to stop people basically wasting the opportunity.

    Oh and maybe employers giving less of a **** about a pointless piece of paper that says you spent lots of money to enrol in a rote learning memory test challenge.

    Oops! That's me being honest again.

  • Comment number 20.

    Poor people need to realise that intelligence is their valuable asset when it comes to progression. Rich people also need to realise that either they or their relatives were also poor at one stage, therefore having a rich family background doesn't necessarily mean ensuring a rich future.

    The sooner we all realise this then the sooner we can progress with the notion that we all have our own goals, ambitions, and determination to get our 'lot' in life.

  • Comment number 21.

    It can be support from parents & schools that is lacking. Often parents who didn't achieve much will pass on their lack of confidence to their children. Schools in poorer areas may not be as used to spotting the brilliant students and pushing them to achieve more.

    Also, maybe students from less well-off families look at the quality of the course rather than the prestige of the university (when I was looking at universities, I discounted Oxford/Cambridge because the courses I wanted to do were rubbish there, so I looked elsewhere, and I don't regret it (but I think my parents do) ).

    What's the fuss about the 'most selective universities' anyway? In a few subjects maybe, but for most subjects it really doesn't matter which university you go to apart from bragging rights.

  • Comment number 22.

    The reason so many public school students get into Oxbridge is simple: confidence and contacts. Many state school students get the grades but it's not enough. There are of course academic advantages that public schools offer, but if you've got a population of students that actually want to be there, very high teacher to student ratios, and excellent teachers and facilities it's hard to fail. In fact it's more surprising that so many state schools succeed than it is that public schools do. But the main reason parents send their kids to public schools, whether they will admit it or not, is that such schools build confidence and provide opportunities for some serious networking. If you're told you're the best and given every opportunity to build confidence such as training in public speaking it gives you an edge. Have you ever noticed how incongruously stupid some people who have been privately educated actually are, but because they exude confidence, have a wide vocabulary and talk nicely they get away with it? Confidence gets you there, contacts get you even further afterwards.

  • Comment number 23.

    Students from poorer families only need two things to get to top universities - Intelligence and a willingness to work. Neither of which can be helped by money or social engineering!

    The charging of tuition fees is probably the biggest retrograde step to encouraging students from poorer families

  • Comment number 24.

    Also forgot to mention that only the nations fixation with Oxford and Cambridge make these places exclusive. I went to Cardiff University and got a Civil engineering degree and that carries more weight than either of these places because Cardiff is in the top 5 unis offering this degree. Check out where Oxford or Cambridge are! you'll be surprised!

    Each university is only good for a few select courses, the rest of them are usually idiotic.

  • Comment number 25.

    Research shows that poorer students are no put off by funding arrangements because they get government assistance and any loans are only payable when they get a well-paid job.

    They are hindered or put off from university places by certain cultural aspects of universities and schools when it comes to dealing with students from poorer areas. eg. Grammar and private schools tend to coach their students in university interview technique, comprehensives tend not to. Schools known for their high quality attract more middle-class families into the area. Less well-performing schools lose middle-class parents. A self-fulfilling prophecy ensues.

    Solutions. 1. Comprehensives to coach potential top university students in how to pass university interviews and entrance exams, 2. School placements by lottery to spread the types of backgrounds students come from.

  • Comment number 26.

    1. At 09:06am on 19 May 2010, JohnH wrote:

    Absolutely. The fact that the top (wealthiest) 20% have 7 times more chance of getting in is more to do with background and culture. These kids are far better prepared and equipped to get into uni. They have parents who can spell university etc.

    The only way to put this right ;-) is to ensure every family gets into that 20% richest bracket. Make 'em all study and write a thesis to win the extra benefits! Have power-restriction kits put into Rolls Royces, Lamboughinis, etc so they don't go wild on the roads.

  • Comment number 27.

    What will help less wealthy students get into top universities?

    Three things:
    1. restore a national system of selective Grammar Schools, which gave bright boys and girls from underprivileged background a real chance to excel.
    2. restore the academic standards and entrance requirements of our universities to those of the 1960s.
    3. abolish university tuition fees and restore the means-tested maintenance grant.

  • Comment number 28.

    Funny - why is this suddenly an issue now? Labour had 13 years to make this better, but made it worse. Don't remember them coming under much criticism for it.
    It's interesting the number of stories on the BBC which claim things like more MPs are from private schools, yet neglect to mention things like more women or ethnic minority MPs. Seems like someone has an agenda.

  • Comment number 29.

    A better education system would be a start. Instead of brainwashing children with political ideology, setting them up to think that the world owes them a living and making them strangers to failure why not teach them the basics properly and that competition and hard work are no bad thing? Entrance to university should be purely on academic ability. Engineering entrance for less able candidates, from whatever background, does them and others who are capable a great disservice. Getting to university and getting a degree should be hard work!

  • Comment number 30.

    "The Offa report identified several factors holding back bright disadvantaged students, including lower exam grades, a greater risk of making poor choices at GCSE level and a fear of applying to the top universities. "

    So none of these issues are with the universities. The problem lies with poor / unsuitable exam grades from school years and lack of empowerement at the application stage. The solution should be addressed at that level, not by attempting to artificially force universities into taking on sub-standard students just because they had a detrimental upbringing. By the time they get to the university stage it is too late - letting a student who has not received the appropriate education before university on to a course that they are not able to sucessfully complete is hardly a solution.

    As a side note, polly_gone should be made aware that all childminders and nurseries are OFSTEd inspected for their educational input into their children's activities and are therefore already part of the 'kindergarten' level education for these children, not just a method of dumping your kids so you can go to work........

  • Comment number 31.

    The cleverest children from all backgrounds have always been able to go to top universities. It's a bit of a myth that they can't or don't, and in fact it's probably easier now than it's ever been. I was slightly amused, though, that the BBC this morning seemed to think that only poor children go to state schools. Certainly not true among people I know who sent their children to comprehensives - who aren't David-Cameron-rich, but certainly aren't poor! (This includes me, incidentally.)
    The children do have to be clever, though. Being 'disadvantaged' is not enough, though some seem to think it should be.

  • Comment number 32.

    A tory government - exit stage left to wails of histronic laughter clutching the ironic comment of the year award - Hurrah

  • Comment number 33.

    1. Too many idiots get into university nowadays anyway. The amount of people I've interviewed - who have degrees, but who are entirely unemployable - is completely astounding. If people are genuinely intelligent enough to make it, they will, reagrdless of their background.

    2. Is the current Conservative government more or less likely to help poorer students into University? Answers on a postcard...

  • Comment number 34.

    Having degree is overrated we have had four new starters this year with a degree and three have already been let go. They come in with an over inflated view of themselves drilled in to them by pushy parents that if you have a degree you don't have to know how to be a human being, on the plus side we now set on two youngsters from Poland with degrees from Poland and they are first class rounded people both from poorer backgrounds we should go over there to see how its done.

  • Comment number 35.

    Isn't it obvious? Since the introduction of tuition fees, the percentage of students from poorer backgrounds has dropped.
    Clearly the solution is to scrap the insane target of sending 50% of school leavers to university, and only allow universities to offer degrees in academic subjects (i.e. Golf Course Management, Travel and Tourism and Media Studies are NOT academic subjects). With fewer people going to Uni we can afford to scrap tuition fees and re-instate the grant.

  • Comment number 36.

    Could start by re-introducing A-levels that actually mean something, instead of students being given them under Nu-Labor's fatuous objective of offering university places to anybody who can barely read or write, so that those who earn them are then truly eligible for university places.

    This alone would solve the funding problems for higher education by greatly reducing the numbers eligible for grants and so provide more funding, on a pro-rata basis, for these genuine students who deserve them.

  • Comment number 37.

    It’s probably not a prime aspiration of many of our brightest young talents from normal schools to want to go to Oxford or Cambridge. The elitest tag and images of well spoken toffs punting down the Cam drinking champers might be quite off-putting for many – this may be too much of a culture shock for the majority of well grounded “normal” students, who have been brought up in the real world and Oxford and Cambridge might not be getting the best applicants, which is their loss.

    The fact that so many politicians and journalists, particularly in the BBC went to Oxford and Cambridge shows just how much influence these organisations have on our society, not through merit or expertise, but through exploiting university contacts and networks.

    Reducing the influence of Oxbridge networks on our society is more important than encouraging more people to attend these elitest establishments. The only solution is to withdraw major amounts of funding from these universities and distribute it to Universities which are more representative and are making an effort. It’s time that Oxford and Cambridge became more reflective of the UK population and perhaps then they will actually get the best students, which they can only pretend to have currently. I doubt that will happen any time soon.

  • Comment number 38.

    "12. At 10:07am on 19 May 2010, Alba Al wrote:
    I agree with the comments of 2 and 3. In Scotland, for the time being, fees are paid by the Scottish Government,(thanks to the SNP). Perhaps England should also try this out for at least some of the more important subjects such as Engineering and science."

    Well if the scottish MP's had not voted for top up fees in the rest of the UK knowing the policy didnt effect their kids we would not have top up fees in the UK!

    And for that mater in NuLabour had kept to their manifesto pledge they wound not have introduced them in the first place

  • Comment number 39.

    I don't think it has anything to do with peer group pressure at all, dumbing down in secondary schools and a lack of money are what does it.

    How do you spend millions on encouraging access to the top universities but still fail? It's yet again, another example of where the labour party has fiddled with another one of our institutional systems because 'their way is better' only to see it fall flat on its face. Wouldn't it have been more sensible to have invested that money in assisted placements? then again, can we afford this kind of expenditure anymore? We really have to get out of the mindset of 'I should be able to have what they're having' just because you come from a disadvantaged background, it's part of life and will always continue to be so.

    How about we stop with meaningless targets that encourage certain qualifications of 'just good enough' exam results and actually teach the children to learn how to learn for themselves. This should be taught at an early age, rather than hoping that possibly the last 5 years of their acdemic life is enough time to get them to a sufficient standard for university.

    This country has consistently produced some of the brightest minds on the planet, without a quota in sight, if 50% of our children were bright enough to be in university then I'm sure they would be asking.

  • Comment number 40.

    What will help anybody - rich or poor - get into one of the best universities is a good education, a high standard of academic attainment and, above all, a culture that values learning. These things cannot be achieved by dumbing down and insisting that one size fits all.

  • Comment number 41.

    Why is there such an obsession with getting so many young people into university? It is a myth that every university graduate earns more money and / or has a better career than those who do not have a degree. Many of us went to university (in all honesty because we didn't really know what else to do with our lives at the age of 18, our schools and parents expected it, and it was offered as the only real option), only to find that over a decade on, we have no savings, huge debts, and in financial terms are years behind those of our peers who went straight out from school to work, learnt a trade, and are now much more financially secure than we are.

    Not everyone is the same. Not everyone is capable of succeeding at university (including a percentage of those who actually get places each year), and not everyone who is capable wants to go. I work for a university and see the amount of effort that goes into encouraging widening participation; if things are still the same as a decade ago, perhaps this is telling us something. Universities are not exclusively for the rich upper classes (and I include Oxbridge in that); they are for the most academically gifted / those with potential and the determination to succeed in their chosen career.

    How about focussing instead on all the options available to school leavers, and making sure that schools provide their pupils with proper careers advice. Then let pupils make up their own minds.

    It would also be interesting to hear from Offa and others how exactly they propose that we get 50% of young people into university, given the current cuts to Higher Education funding and caps on student numbers which have been put in place.

  • Comment number 42.

    People should be accepted on the basis of talent, not background. It is possible that the people from poorer backgrounds might not be clever enough, it could be that simple. You shouldn't positively discriminate in favour of anyone.

  • Comment number 43.

    Our two sons went to ordinary low ranking Universities.

    When they left they started their own web design and hosting business from nothing and in five years now have a thriving business, with internationally recognised clients, directly employing 12 other graduates.

    It is not necessarily which university you go to..... perhaps more to do with what you do with the education you gain, once you leave.

  • Comment number 44.

    My background:

    Estate – 6 primary schools -> Grammar School –> University -> Computing PHD.

    This was in the 1980s in Kent and dispite my dyslexia, spelling and bad grammar!

  • Comment number 45.

    13. At 10:09am on 19 May 2010, the_fatcat wrote:
    My background:

    Council estate – Grammar School – Cambridge.

    This was in the 1970s.

    Spot the missing link.

    Well, I failed the 11plus in the 1960s and still went to Oxford followed by a PhD. I'm not sure we can draw general conclusions from either of our experiences.

    Take any high potential child and put them through public school and they will undoubtedly do better than the same child at a State school. Unfortunately, education is not a repeatable process, but anyone given the advantage of going to a public school will do better (in general). What the state needs to ensure is that the state system allows all to meet their potential, irrespective of whether that's 11 A*s at GCSE and 4 As at A level or just 5Cs at GCSE. Universities need a better way of selecting very bright children whose background and school meant they were not able to get better grades than an average child who had the advantage that their parents would pay for them to go to public school.

    The media and HYSers talk out of both sides of their mouths on this topic: they don't want public school kids to be discriminated against but admit that the state system doesn't do as well for bright kids as the public schools would. What is the solution to ensure the best universities select the best kids irrespective of background?

  • Comment number 46.

    13. At 10:09am on 19 May 2010, the_fatcat wrote:
    My background:
    Council estate – Grammar School – Cambridge.
    This was in the 1970s.
    Spot the missing link.
    Not sure but is it this?
    Council estate – Grammar School – Cambridge - Dole

  • Comment number 47.

    Maybe more people from wealthier households get in to top universities, as they only teach proper courses and those from a poorer background aren't clever enough? (not their fault btw, see below).

    When I returned to uni in 2003 aged 33, most of the younger people in my classes couldn't add up without a calculator, had no idea how to string a proper written sentence together and couldn't spell!

    Maybe that's where the problem is eh?

  • Comment number 48.

    Its all about poorer students ... disadvantaged etc etc ..

    The way it is all going, I ( middle class, reasonable income etc ) will NO WAY be able to send my children to University either !

    who introduced the idea that 50% should be able to go to university ?

    who introduced tuition fees ?

    who has wrecked the education system ?

  • Comment number 49.

    Disadvantaged ..

    Scottish Univeristies are free for all Europeans ..

    Unless you are English

    That is racist actually

  • Comment number 50.

    End the poverty of expectation culture, where middle class teachers expect their working class pupils to fail.
    Explain to pupils that 'overnight success' usually requires 10 or 15 years hard work.
    Oh, and also drum into them that the world does NOT owe them a living.

  • Comment number 51.

    I'm a little confused.

    Throughout the week the BBC has reported that the Russell Group (who represent some of the top universities) has recommended to the Government that universities either get students to pay their loans at a higher rate or that fees are put up to £9k per year.

    Now there's shock that only the very rich can afford to go to a top university and they need to be encouraged?

    Make up your minds.

    It is not fair to encourage students to attend university then slam then with higher fees or high interest rates after they've started.

  • Comment number 52.

    This is about parental attitude towards education, which for poorer types who see no value in it, don't support their children. Agreed that statement is very stereo-typical but educated parents know the importance of education and give their children the support and push they need.

    We no longer have working and middle class divides it’s an educated and uneducated class divide. Children from the latter group just aren't capable or ready for higher education. For this to change investment in these kids is needed at a far earlier age.

  • Comment number 53.

    Back in the eighties I got a job at 18 and forged out a career in travel and tourism on the back of a two year diploma after leaving school. I didn't even need to do that, a lot of people were getting employment even younger on Youth Opportunity schemes. Now I see degrees in this subject and its ridiculous, I even saw a receptionists job advertised the other day specifying "must be educated to degree level" !

    Bring back technical colleges and vocational training for people who are more practical minded then academic. Then maybe university will be more accessible for those who should really be there.

  • Comment number 54.

    I'm afraid I have to echo the thoughts of many in the comments above. Wealth is a secondary and perhaps even tertiary consideration when it comes to University attendance it only shows a correlation due to social implications the background and work ethic of the families.

    Those students who do succeed will have certain traits in common that shouldn't be that hard to spot. They will be hard working and dedicated to their studies, they'll do the study required of them outside of school. They won't coast, sit in the common room having a laugh during study periods, claim they don't have time to complete homework or expect the knowledge to be somehow drip fed into their brain without them noticing.

    If they don't understand they'll be knocking on their teacher's door in their free time asking them to explain it again, and again until they get it. Not moaning "It's my lunch time I'm busy talking to my mates"

    I teach A level Chemistry, I can spot which students will succeed and which will fail in the very first session. Data produced by schemes to show how students should achieve are nonsense. A student who gains A* grades at GCSE won't get any grade at all if they don't work. I have B (GCSE) grade students excelling due to their hard work and A* students failing module after module because they can't coast any more. No guessing whom the A* student blames for their failure either!

    I won't claim to know how to fix how these students think, it'll be harder than teaching the content of the course, but it needs to be done far before they choose their GCSE options. They need to know that it isn't easy, it isn't handed to them on a plate.

    If a student doesn't do this we are providing a disservice to those students who do by giving them help.


    Oh and if a student doesn't have an ambition to go to Uni, and therefore doesn't try to go... why is that a problem? We shouldn't force the issue and make them go, waste of money.

  • Comment number 55.

    No.36 At 10:43am on 19 May 2010, James wrote:
    Could start by re-introducing A-levels that actually mean something, instead of students being given them under Nu-Labor's fatuous objective of offering university places to anybody who can barely read or write, so that those who earn them are then truly eligible for university places.
    This alone would solve the funding problems for higher education by greatly reducing the numbers eligible for grants and so provide more funding, on a pro-rata basis, for these genuine students who deserve them.

    Thereby disadvantaging all Scottish students, when will people realise that A levels don't exist in Scotland and if you are referring to the UK - you need to say qualifications that mean something. If this issue is only about England and Wales then i am in error.
    This issue with getting more people to go to university is madness in any event; we need to maintain an aura of exclusivity about who goes there; that is not to say only the rich should have this privilege, more bursaries for those who show an aptitude and desire to go to university from poorer backgrounds and an emphasis on the core skills in schools should help.
    P.S. I am referring to Scottish students going to English or Welsh universities so no moaning abut the student fees problem, though i totally agree either have it everywhere or not at all.

  • Comment number 56.

    I have looked at this problem from two opposing angles. There is the unreal expectation that some schools give students when it comes to further education. Promises of a bright future to a youngster who is clearly going to struggle at college and university is unforgiveable yet I have seen it happen over and over again.

    Then again I have a granddaughter who is in the top 5% of the nation's brightest students and yet she is being allowed to drift into the arts where she will face fierce competition for any sort of employment. Her many talents will be underused and her contribution to the workforce squandered.

    The truth often hurts but when careers advice is given I think it is essential to be brutally honest.

    Of course everyone wants their young ones to excel and be happy but not at the expense of bringing out the best in them.

    With so many university placements going to study subjects that result in little or no chance of employment it is a massive waste of resources - stop trying to meet targets and concentrate on the students actual ability.

    When my nephew was asked which career he wanted to pursue he had a clear desire to become a dentist. He is dyslexic and the career officer's response was A for ambition but E for likely success.

    Despite this knock back he studied for seven years and achieved his goal. His mother would dearly love to trace that careers advisor and show him what a mistake he made. So much depends on the drive of the individual and while some will happily slot into any niche that offers the least resistance there are the others who will move heaven and earth to follow their dream.

    Students with drive and intelligence should be offered places at 'Oxbridge' for that is where they will flourish. Means testing doesn't sound attractive but would surely help those from a deprived background.

  • Comment number 57.

    Perhaps people from wealthier families place greater value on the status of Universities? Maybe your average Joe doesn't care if he goes to Oxford or Birmingham, so long as he gets his education and the job he wants, and maybe that's sensible.
    Perhaps, also, the new Government will stop obsessing about Universtities and, in pursuit of upward mobility, recognise that manual trades have as great a value as degrees, and elevate the status of craftsmen, rather than shoehorn everyone into worthless degree programmes that churn out poorly educated people who can't get a job. Speaking personally, I would have more use for a tree surgeon or decorator than a philosopher or a graphic designer.

  • Comment number 58.

    Ok, so now lets do a survey of those 'most disadvantaged 40%.' & see how many of those actually achieved the necessary A-level qualifications to get into a university or how many spent their time at school treating it as a glorified youth club, a place to meet your mates, chat about last nights t.v. & make your least favorite teachers life a living hell.

    Hell, why don't just let every child go to university & while we're at it why don't do away with all that tricky stuff you need to learn to become a brain surgeon.......

  • Comment number 59.

    43. At 10:52am on 19 May 2010, Bob A Job wrote:
    Our two sons went to ordinary low ranking Universities.
    When they left they started their own web design and hosting business from nothing and in five years now have a thriving business, with internationally recognised clients, directly employing 12 other graduates.
    It is not necessarily which university you go to..... perhaps more to do with what you do with the education you gain, once you leave.

    I'd take this further and say that you don’t even need to go to university, I changed my career from being a chef to programming in IT, all done by going to a college; got my HND (not a degree) and with a bit of perseverance, hard work and some luck now have a job and a career that I enjoy and is more rewarding both financially and personally.

    Don’t let people say that you have to go to University to be successful and earn more doing your job; some jobs will have to go down this route Doctor, Lawyer etc. The majority of us don’t need to believe the hype.

  • Comment number 60.

    The state education system is designed by all political parties to maintain the ruling class.

    Politician, Media people, Bankers key positions in our society mainly come from wealthy families and elite public schools.

    No party wants to change this and it will always be the case.

  • Comment number 61.

    Jobs. There is a growing underclass of people in this country that have never worked, and probably never will. Two or three generations worth. What chance does a child have growing up in this? The govt. introduces league tables to isolate/marginalise schools; education quality goes down hill. Universities prioritise money over education excellence. Meanwhile an average student receives a huge bill for the privilege of being treated like this. On top of all of this we have a politicians living in another world; have any of these people been through the baseline education system?

    My background,

    South Shields Council Estate -> Comprehensive -> 6th Form Comprehensive -> University; Chemistry PhD

    Inspiration Parents.

  • Comment number 62.

    Didn't Labour create a thousand new pointless/meaningless courses so that those with less academic skills can still get to Uni and do 'car washing' or 'hot cross bun baking'?

    The Offa report identified several factors holding back bright disadvantaged students, including lower exam grades, a greater risk of making poor choices at GCSE level and a fear of applying to the top universities.

    Heaven forbid that students don't make it into Uni if they have poor exam grades and have made poor GCSE choices!

    Uni has been so watered down by the left wing socialists. The left really have destroyed this country.

  • Comment number 63.

    Closing this quango - "The Office for Fair Access" and using money saved to fund schools.

  • Comment number 64.

    Grammar schools.

  • Comment number 65.

    Perhaps we should go back to only allowing those bright enougth to go to university? Seems to me that more or less anyone can go at the moment regardless of grades. Focus on those who will get the most out of it, not those who cannot think of anything better to do, then funds will become available.

  • Comment number 66.

    A salient reminder:Universities do not make intelligence they merely train the intellect that is already present therefore the background of any student should be erroneous and pointless. Only the brightest and the best should go to university regardless of background; when there were grammar schools this was often the case.Far too many "also rans" are attending now including those from private schools because they have been brain-washed into believing that it is a rite of passage. I am appalled at the number of graduates who appear to be lacking in basic education and verbal skills. The whole system needs an overhaul.

  • Comment number 67.

    The most puzzling aspect of our State schools system is:

    1) The independent/private school model seems to work better?
    2) Why don't State schools simply follow/copy the same model instead of constantly re-inventing the wheel?

  • Comment number 68.

    I graduated recently from university (around 17th in the league table so not really one of the 'top' universities, but chose it because it was close to home).

    A degree was the only way to get the job I have today but at a cost.

    I have a £14,000 debt of which about £3,000 is purely interest that has built over time (my interest started when I took the loan) and that's with living at home and working part time for the full 3 years to keep my debt as low as I could.

    I'm paying it back slowly out of my wage but it barely covers the interest rate. The news reported last week that loan interest rates could rise for graduates. My debt would be thousands of pounds higher if I had applied to a top London university. I would have loved to have applied and attended but knowing the costs I never even considered applying to a university in the South to try and keep my final debt as low as I could.

    I'm sure other English students from a similar financial backgrounds feel the same and make their university choices based on similar reasons. Both my parents work full time, but it's my education and choice and my debt. It's the price I'll have to pay for the job I wanted.

    However, I would begrudge it less if Scottish and Welsh students paid the same, or if I had the same benefits of no fees. I feel like I would have been able to have this job AND a degree without the debt if I had just been born in the right part of the UK. I think we should all pay the same amount for our education giving everyone the same options.

  • Comment number 69.

    #30 Simon Hill

    "As a side note, polly_gone should be made aware that all childminders and nurseries are OFSTEd inspected for their educational input into their children's activities"

    I am well aware of this, thank you. Perhaps you missed the point that inspecting schools (pre-Thatcher) once worked because no one ever felt the need for league tables. Now who do we have to thank for irrelevant "accountability" and when are we ridding ourselves of superficial and meaningless targets? Should save us billions. Teachers are at their best when they can innovate, influence, and be unworried by superfluous "demons" elsewhere.

    I spent two terms in a kindergarten which was nothing like our present day nurseries. I was speaking French at four and half years of age, at play, because it was fun!

  • Comment number 70.

    It is not the fault of Universities, after all, they have standards to maintain! if the less wealthy have poorer entry requirements, wrong combination of subjects at GCSE &/or A level or fear of applying for top Universities!

  • Comment number 71.

    45. At 10:55am on 19 May 2010, James T Kirk wrote:

    ...Well, I failed the 11plus in the 1960s and still went to Oxford followed by a PhD. I'm not sure we can draw general conclusions from either of our experiences...


    I agree with your sentiment James, but I think that the_fatcat, icewombat, etc. are also right. As you point out, its not about individual case studies, but I'd like to add it is about overall statistics.

    While passing the 11+ was never a guarantee of going onto university, and failing the 11+ didn't ensure that you wouldn't go to university. Having Grammar schools increased the probability of young people from poor backgrounds going to top universities.

    Can't argue with the numbers...

  • Comment number 72.

    13. At 10:09am on 19 May 2010, the_fatcat wrote:
    My background:

    Council estate – Grammar School – Cambridge.

    This was in the 1970s.

    Spot the missing link.

    Is it that Maggie Thacher sold off all the council houses in the 1980s so there aren't council estates any more?

  • Comment number 73.

    How about this list then:

    Kindergarten - Osnabruck

    Primary School - Gibraltar
    Primary School - Berlin
    Primary School - Bodmin
    Primary School - Berlin (passed 11+)

    Public School - Sussex (less than 6 months though)
    Secondary School (Comprehensive) - Berlin
    High School - County Down

    Wait for the next one:

    Comprehensive co-educational boarding school - Wilhelmshaven

    High School - Oswestry
    Grammar School - St Austell
    Sixth Form College - St Austell

    University - Bristol

    BA (Hons) Degree

    From the above list you can probably deduce my father was in the armed forces...

    Non-commissioned ranks that is, not an officer...

  • Comment number 74.

    Ability to pass exams is one thing (most of it is learning things parrot fashion and then writing it down how markers want it).

    Those from poor backgrounds are disadvantaged more due to Conservative's student loans and Labour's top up fees.

    My background

    1 parent family from council sink estate - 1 o level in the 80's
    then luckily gaining BTEC ONC & HNC in engineering in the late 80's.
    Finally during the early 90's being enrolled on an engineering degree at a recognised university.

    I could not have been able to complete another year to get a Masters or PHD but have found a role now where my knowledge, skills and ability excel. My mother and I sacrificed a lot but now I am earning double what I would have if I stayed in my home town.

    I think the 50% target is a dream, tuition fees and loans (20K+ after three years study) is what discourages the poorer in society from this higher education aspiration. Careers and choices in school are poor and parents need to talk to and encourage their children to aim high in case they get there.

    Could I afford studying for a degree now ? No way


  • Comment number 75.

    "The real obstacles are parents that have no aspiration themselves and therefore do not instill any into their offspring...."

    True, but it's not just parents. I knew several people at school who were perfectly capable of getting into university, but they deliberately didn't do it - their parents weren't bothered one way or the other, but many of their friends would have disowned them if they had become "snobby students who want to be better than everyone else".

    There is still a general attitude in Britain that trying to excell at anything (with the exception of sports and possibly entertainment) makes you some sort of stuck-up big-head. That is a British societal trait and until THAT is removed no progress in this area will be made.

    Given that 11 years of Thatcherism, 7 years of John Major, and 13 years of New Labour didn't result in it changing, I doubt anything is likely to happen any time soon!

  • Comment number 76.

    Simple, the top 2,3 or 4% of high school students should have free university education including reasonable living grants, depending on the amount the government can afford to spend. But this does assume a decent, standardised high school education for all. Some would suggest means-testing, but I tend away from that as it usually doesn't work. University isn't for everyone, it should be for the brightest and possibly the stupid with rich parents. There are many other avenues of education available. It is possible to have a tiered system where the next 2% have free tuition, then 2% received a partial grant, etc.
    I get tired of seeing tourism graduates stacking supermarket shelves.

  • Comment number 77.

    Why should anyone be surprised by this?

    The awarding of degrees and university placements have just been jet another of NuLabour's deceptions ... like child poverty.

    At last, a Tory administration (with added LibDems) which might at least restore some faith in the University system which, let's face it, has been getting its own way in any case.

    I'm just pleased to see the end of NuLabour's 'Prizes for All' mentality. They deceived young people and it has been business which has had to sort the wheat from the chaff.

  • Comment number 78.

    What is a “top” University? Not a cramming joint, presumably.

    How do we “actually” (word used advisedly, note) rate universities, or any educational establishment for that matter?

    Some fifty years back (deriving from a poor family) I did not even attempt to apply for a place at a “top” university, but instead took an external degree at London (not quite the tops perhaps?).

    Since then the college I attended has been elevated to university status, and since then I gained a place in the “top” institution in the land (again attached to University of London) in order to study for a second “first degree”.

    Frankly there is no simple answer to your question. However, I was fortunate in securing a grant from my local education authority without the burden of repayment that shadows graduates these days.

    Having worked as a schoolteacher and university lecturer, I have to report that the so-called “status” of an establishment means less to the truly vocational student than the merits of the individual institution itself (tops or no tops).

    My very wise tutor at London said to me: “The greatest education of all comes from the university of life.”

  • Comment number 79.

    I came from a working class background. Now I have a PhD and I'm an academic in one of the top Russell group universities. I loved learning from an early age and I had one or two teachers who were truly inspirational. However, the majority of my fellow students at my local comprehensive school didn't give a damn about studying and those of us who did were physically bullied on an almost daily basis. School ended up being more about survival than learning. Despite this I managed to go to Cambridge where initially I was intimidated by the former public school students who seemed so confident of themselves and their natural right to be there. I know many other working class kids initially felt the same. As time went by I realised that the public school kids were not the problem but it was my own background which led me to believe that we were different and shouldn't really be there. In the end I found that the public school kids were generally great and didn't look down on me at all, and the academics were only interested in my ability and not my background. So from my own experiences the problem seems to me that too many working class kids are not encouraged to aim high and make the most of their abilities. In addition there is often an inverted snobbery (which usually disguises a feeling of inferiority) against mixing working class kids with richer kids from public schools. This attitude has really been highlighted again with David Cameron becoming PM and the snide comments about his Etonian background. Give working class kids BELIEF in themselves and the opportunity to develop their talents, and they will do as well as the richer kids.

  • Comment number 80.

    I remember considerable jealousy and ignorance produced bullying of the academic children by other children, so one wonders why the bullies felt the way they did and what could be done to change such children plus what effect did the bullying have on the academic children and of course were there any children that could have done better but were afraid to or put off it for some other reason? Some of the motivation for this pro-ignorance attitude seemed to come from popular culture - subtle and not-so-subtle messages from music, music videos, 'sports channelling of children over other study', the (subjective but hard for a child to discern perhaps) valueing of aesthetics over substance within advertisements, etc. Snobs might suggest that intelligent children would not be affected by such things but that ignores subtleties and misses the point.

  • Comment number 81.

    Simple, get rid of private schools.

  • Comment number 82.

    Change and shorten the idiotic academic year, historically based on harvest time?

    Many students, like our children and our friend's children, accumulated more debt from accommodation costs, even when working while studying?

    There are many very important university courses that are too long - due to the 'academic year' time-line? Educators know about the 'fallow period' that allows the brain to 'ingest' information during a break of study?

    However, it's not good enough. Schools AND universities have to re-think their remit? The 'educators' and government have to think again 'outside of the box' that may enable more people to afford uni and FE?

  • Comment number 83.

    Set consistent rules.
    Anybody who can afford private pre-university education can also afford to pay full university fees. No funding should be available for those students.
    Set a target with upfront penalty. If the university can not achieve the target, funding should be cut at least in double rate (twice or more than the failure).

  • Comment number 84.

    The universities can only take people with the grades for the course from those that apply. University entrance requirements have to focus on existing knowledge as much, if not more than natural inteligence, and obviously you can not accept someone who does not apply.

    There are two areas that then need to be addressed:
    1: How to ensure bright kids from disadvantaged backgrounds get the grades they need
    2: How to convince these kids to apply to the best universities

    Point 2 can be partly addressed with financial solutions, do not raise tuition fees further and provide some form of grant (only feasible if you scrap the idea of getting 50% of people to university).

    Both points however are more strongly affected by the school and home environment. Many parents simply don't want their kids to go to university, have no interest in academic achievement and consider the best universities snobbish and "not for our type". A friend of mine had to fight her parents to go to uni, she had a weekend job at a garden center when she was at school and her parents (who were really not that bad) thought this was good enough for her and she shouldn't want to go for uni, it took her three years of working to be able to fund herself and even then was hard to convince her folks that going somewhere other than just the local university would be the best option. University is expensive, the loans are not enough to cover rent and accomodation, if your parents can't help at all financially that makes it harder but if they actively work mentally against you going it can be almost impossible

  • Comment number 85.

    Grammar schools are the obvious answer. I, along with many, many other children from a working class background found no barrier to a university education when grammar schools were the norm for those with the ability to make use of them. I started at university in 1976 and at that time, it was seen as quite normal for children of all backgrounds, including the poorest, to go through a grammar school and on to university.

  • Comment number 86.

    What I think this shows is that selecting children based on either parental income or passing an arbitrary test in spelling and simple arithmetic at the arbitrary age of 11 and then giving them a superior educational experience with smaller class sizes, no disruptive kids and more resources gives the unsurprising result that most of such kids do better than most of the similar kids who have had none of these advantages.

  • Comment number 87.

    Perhaps education isn't working because the ethos is wrong or outdated.

    We are well aware that not everyone is academically brilliant, despite what some Governments would have us believe. There has to be a proper mechanism to ensure that everyone is given a proper grounding in the basics of academia (previously called the 3Rs and now including computer literacy). After this has been taught and a certain standard achieved then we need a way to hive off the non-academics and start their education on a more vocational footing. They will be more motivated and the academics can forge ahead as well. The end result is that the next generation will be more competent and knowledgeable in their field of study and this country will reap the benefits.

    If I wanted to court controversy I might also suggest (wait for the gasps) a form of eugenics, at least in as much as limiting production from those who wish to receive benefits rather than being productive, but I know the comments that suggestion will produce (such reminders as what the Nazis did, China's experiment, etc.)

  • Comment number 88.

    Private schools exists to promote privilege - why would anyone pay otherwise?

    One expression of that privilege is an increased likelihood of acceptance at a 'good' university.
    Therefore, to bring greater equality it must be that private schools are banned.

    [But note an interesting recent fraud in the USA, where a student entered Harvard by deception;
    and Harvard failed to notice until the student claimed to have written a book. This suggests the
    students at Oxbridge and not a bright as often believed. My direct experience in Oxbridge suggests
    the same, and re-enforces the conclusion that places at Oxbridge are (indirectly)
    purchased as much as they are earned].

  • Comment number 89.

    54. At 11:19am on 19 May 2010, Elaine wrote:
    I'm afraid I have to echo the thoughts of many in the comments above. Wealth is a secondary and perhaps even tertiary consideration when it comes to University attendance it only shows a correlation due to social implications the background and work ethic of the families.

    Those students who do succeed will have certain traits in common that shouldn't be that hard to spot. They will be hard working and dedicated to their studies, they'll do the study required of them outside of school. They won't coast, sit in the common room having a laugh during study periods, claim they don't have time to complete homework or expect the knowledge to be somehow drip fed into their brain without them noticing...


    Hear! Hear!

    Very good point, and eloquently made.
    Have you ever thought about going into politics? You'd make a very good Education Minister, though you'd then have to spend your time fighting those militant parts of the teaching unions instead of fixing the eduction system ;-P

  • Comment number 90.

    My daughter goes to a private school that selects on the basis of ability. The headmaster of the best girls school in our 1/6 of london sends his daughter to my girls' school. The headmistress of my daughters junior school sends her daughter to my girl's school.

    Now they are people who know about education.

  • Comment number 91.

    The whole system needs gutting and starting again. Kids are just taught how to pass exams, and hardly any of what they are taught is applicable in the real world. It also takes far too long. Kids should be leaving university aged 18 or 19, not 22 or 23.
    I suppose you have to ask, is having over 50% of kids going to university a good thing? I dont think so personally, particularly because less than 20% of all jobs actually require a degree, coupled with the fact that it is now possible to do degrees on such topics as "Northerness" (what it means to be Northern), "Celebrities of the 20th century" (who is going to pay their wages) and my own personal favourite, "Golf Course Management" (why not just get a job on a ****ing golf course).
    This is a contreversial view, but I think we need to HALF the amount of students in this country, and eliminate any of these nonsense degrees. Whilst money pours into universities, apprenticeships that actually teach work based skills have been neglected. More should be encouraged down this route.
    By lowering the amount of university places available, it would naturally raise the academic bar on who could get in, and it's utterley pointless to train 1000 marine biologists, only for 980 to get a job in a factory when they leave.
    Scrap the degrees, bring back the apprenticeship. It's the only way.

  • Comment number 92.

    13. At 10:09am on 19 May 2010, the_fatcat wrote:

    "My background:

    Council estate – Grammar School – Cambridge.

    This was in the 1970s.

    Spot the missing link."

    My Background: 1963 failed the 11+ - parents pulled strings to keep me out of local secondary modern - went to better secondary modern, bussing every day - Leicestershire adopted comprehensive education, under Tory council about 1968 - got 10 CSEs some at O'level - allowed into ex-Gramnmar school , now Upper School - got 7 O' Levels then 3 A Levels then Ist Class Hons at Nottingham Uni - just approaching end of teaching career.

    Influential factors in my success? My middle class parents, no TV at home, Leicestershire Comprehensive system, my hard work and me raising 2 fingers at the 11+.

    Link that I am glad was missing? - Ans = Grammar School system.

  • Comment number 93.

    54. At 11:19am on 19 May 2010, Elaine wrote:

    I teach A level Chemistry, I can spot which students will succeed and which will fail in the very first session.

    Reall? Are you sure that after that first session your students merely live up to expectations you have set after the first, and probably invalid, experience of them. Are you sure your expectations do not become self-fulfilling because you treat those you expect to succeed differently from those you have pre-determined will fail? A good teacher will keep an open mind and adjust their expectations of each child throughout their time teaching them.

    Otherwise what's the point in having lessons after the very first one if you've already made up your mind and nothing that happens afterwards is going to change it?

  • Comment number 94.

    Is not the real problem that students from poorer families are less motivated, have little aspiration, and at times parents that really don't care about the future. Therefore they are more unlikely to attend university. Bright kids can get on whatever their background. OK, they may not attend Oxford or Cambridge but would want to go to such overrated universities?

  • Comment number 95.

    I think that what is going on is a massive improvement in provision of higher education compared to twenty years ago. I consider myself from a lower-middle income family in Merseyside. My parents were unable to provide any financial support for my degree, and had I been in that situation 20 or 30 years ago, I wouldn't have attended any university at all, nevermind a Russell group one! As it is, I have graduated with a significant amount of debt, and my younger siblings will graduate with even more (approx £8 000 per year, so £32 000 for a masters). However, as we all have done sensible subjects (teaching, engineering, chemistry and physics) we have jobs, or are highly likely to get them after graduation. I certainly don't have a problem paying for my higher education, the governement (ie tax payers) can't pay for everything.

    The simplest way to get less wealthy students into top universities is to encourage decent careers advice at schools. That way, those students capable of doing a useful degree at university will be encouraged to do so, and those that are not capable it will have alternatives available. Attendance at university is not a "right", it is something that is a stepping stone to an appropriate career.

  • Comment number 96.

    If A levels were an actual format by which students can be distinguished rather than simply a standard which is considered achievable by all then those who are actually capable of doing well would differentiate themselves from the others who aren't trying as hard.

    After all, compare those who put 110% effort into their studies before A levels to those who only put 60% effort... Both are capable of getting AAB at A level.

    Now compare that to Uni, those who put 110% are capable of gettings 2:1 or firsts... Those who only put 60% effort into their degree? They'll scrape a 2:2...

    The problem? By the time they reach Uni, it's too late, those who weren't able to differentiate themselves beforehand may have already lost their chance to get into their desired uni.

  • Comment number 97.

    Poor kids get all the breaks.
    Why not just encourage the brightest kids to go to University and ignore the amount of money their parents have.
    Reinstate full grants that provide the basics for living and free tuition would do it.
    Unfortunately not everyone is smart enough to go to University and too many people are attending at the moment.
    There is no shame in having a vocational qualification.

  • Comment number 98.

    I spoke to an old friend, who has been doing an "Environmental Science" degree. He told me he was going to apply for a job assesing the environmental impact of a power station. Very impressive.
    Later that evening, I was discussing my old banger, and how the alternator needs replacing. "Whats's an alternator?" he asks. "A dynamo" I replied. He looked blank. "You know, a spinning magnet in a coil? Generates electricty?". Blank.
    He's applying for jobs asessing the impact of power stations- he doesn't even know how a ****ing power station works!
    3 years, and lots of money wasted.

  • Comment number 99.

    I should add to my earlier post a discussion of the problems facing universities now. I'm an academic at a Russell Group university which is ranked amongst the top 50 universities in the world. Due to cuts already made by the outgoing Labour government to the HEFCE budget we are facing large-scale compulsory redundancies, not just amongst support staff but also amongst academics. This will lead to a decline in the quality of frontline services since we not only teach but conduct research too. More teaching leads to less research and the best researchers will go overseas if they can't do their research here. I understand that there is a huge budget deficit but what are universities supposed to do? We either cut staff (which is happening) or we increase our income. We are prevented from doing the latter because increasing tuition fees is political dynamite and so university budgets are being squeezed from both sides. The increase in student numbers over the past decade has not been fully funded and the country needs to have a mature debate about whether university education should be centrally funded (via grants) or largely via graduate loans (with bursaries and scholarships for the most needy). Either way, major UK universities are in a crisis and the funding gap needs to be resolved.

  • Comment number 100.

    What will help less wealthy students get into top universities?


    Maybe if more "poorer" people actually attained qualifications at school, or qualifications of adequate standard then more could attend uni.

    Its pathetic and ridiculous to say there are LESS opportunitys.

    The fact is, is that there is a core percentage of population who just cannot be bothered. They are provided with MANY MANY THOUSANDS of £s worth of education from infants school to senior school but take the decision to NOT bother.

    If this opportunity was provided to millions in Africa or Asia then they would literally bite your hand off and take FULL advantage to maximise their potential and opportunity via education, NO MATTER what problems they had experienced in life.

    Thing is, there is a percentage of population who are basically muppets.

    It is hard to do anything with muppets and you cannot blame the education system for muppets.


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