Ability over ability to pay

January 20, 2011

Postgraduate taught degrees may require amendment for a wide range of reasons, but the key point of the article "Taught postgraduate degrees may soon be preserve of the rich" (13 January) should cause anxiety for anyone concerned with the well-being of both higher education and society as a whole.

The taught postgraduate degree (or sub-degree postgraduate course) is the main pathway to a number of professional and career opportunities. If selection is to be skewed even more towards those with wealth rather than those with ability, society will become increasingly polarised and important jobs will be held by the less competent.

The taught MA has also become the chief pathway to the PhD. Even 10 years ago, bright students were able to move straight from undergraduate to doctoral studies, but this is now extremely rare and widely discouraged. If the path to a doctorate and hence to an academic career is limited to those whose families are sufficiently wealthy to fund them, higher education will be even more dominated by those who have a stake in the status quo and wish to preserve their own and their children's comfort.

One of the roles of the academy is to question things as they are. However, the desire to protect comfort and privilege contributes to a huge weight of inertia; many academics are unable to extend their honest questioning to the point where they risk their own well-being and the future opportunities of their families.

This is understandable. But if the academy wishes to guard against that inertia, it is important that it recruits new members from the widest possible range of able graduates.

Kathleen Bell, via www.timeshighereducation.co.uk.

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