Elitism alive and well

October 22, 1999

Reports of the death of elitism in higher education are grossly exaggerated ('Populist Labour swells HE ranks', THES, October 1). Government targets for widening participation are to be welcomed. However, percentage rates of participation can mislead by masking the inequalities they are meant to redress.

Two years ago, The THES showed that the then 40 per cent participation rate glossed over the variation in participation of school-leavers from the most and least affluent areas. Participation among school-leavers from the less affluent neighbourhoods was shown to be below 10 per cent, compared with more than 50 per cent from the affluent areas. Simply raising the rate as a whole will not spark a revolution if the variation persists and the barriers remain.

Outreach work with schools and community groups is welcome. Ultimately, however, widening participation will need a commitment to change where it counts - in work done with students in classes and lecture theatres. The low status attached to this work is, indeed, a symptom of elitism.

Howard Stones Project development manager FDTL Project: Action Learning for Lifelong Professional Development Bradford College

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