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Daily View: University place shortage

Clare Spencer | 09:21 UK time, Thursday, 19 August 2010

An employee in the Ucas clearing house call centreOn the day A-level results come out in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, commentators ask what should be done about university funding.

The Independent's editorial argues that the government is being inconsistent in its aim for social mobility:

"In a twist of the knife, this comes a day after the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, made a speech announcing the Coalition's intention to improve social mobility in Britain. As Alan Milburn, the Government's new reviewer of social mobility, noted in a report last year, the alumni of the elite universities have a firm grip on the top professions, from the law to the Civil Service to Parliament. Mr Willetts might argue that attendance at a 'less competitive university' is no long-term handicap to a bright student, but the facts suggest otherwise.
"Mr Clegg says that promoting social mobility is a 'long-term business'. But this Government's short-sighted decision to squeeze the higher education sector at a time of burgeoning demand will surely not speed up the delivery of the fairer society he describes."

The Daily Mail calls the A-level candidates a betrayed generation which started school when Tony Blair came to power:

"For 13 years, Labour cynically raised their hopes, tinkering with the exam system to cast a rosy light on its own record, while promising to find university places for half the nation's school-leavers.

"Yet behind those ever-improving grades lay a deeply disturbing reality: Britain was slipping ever further down the international league tables - from 4th place in science just ten years ago to 14th today, from 7th in literacy to 17th, and from 8th in maths to a miserable 24th."

In the Guardian Julia Margo suggests that male students, who end up with worse A-level results than their female counterparts, should avoid A-levels and opt for apprenticeships:

"Society needs to get over this obsession with A-levels as the gold standard if we want to give boys the chance to succeed in this new job environment. Rigging A-levels won't help. They need training to help them operate in the workplace, not qualifications that prepare them to fail."

In the Financial Times Nick Butler argues that universities should be allowed to manage their own numbers without interference from the state:

"Higher education should be one of the UK's strengths in the 21st century. In a competitive system, some applicants will always be disappointed. But restoring universities' autonomy would end the bizarre and unhappy spectacle of tens of thousands of people with the ability and desire to learn being turned away."

Madsen Pirie suggests in the Times that to clear the university logjam the UK needs to copy the US funding system:

"In the past we have copied good things from America's best universities - and if we want the only long-term solution to our funding problem we need to adopt US money-raising methods. We need to build up endowment funds that aid poorer students and liberate the number of spaces at a college from what the Government thinks it can afford...
"Americans are generous. It is an American tradition to make your pile, then to use it generously. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett do on a grand scale what many Americans on more modest incomes do as well.
"We lack that culture and the tax rules that encourage it - and we should change that."

Links in full

Independent | A raw deal for a generation of students
Julia Margo | Guardian | A way out of the mancession
Daily Mail | No more illusions about education
Nick Butler | Financial Times | Unblock the real barriers to higher education
Madsen Pirie | Times | There's a simple way to clear the university logjam

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