Browne's hidden hand a slap in sector's face (part 3)

November 4, 2010

Vernon Bogdanor repeats the Browne Review's assertion that, since 2004, there has been a "significant and sustained" increase in participation in higher education by people from disadvantaged areas ("Can we afford not to pay more?", 28 October). This is misleading.

The gap in participation between socioeconomic categories 4-7 and 1-3 was 18 per cent in 2002 and is 14 per cent today. The annual improvement of about half a per cent in participation rates from categories 4-7 has been achieved mostly by young women, whose participation increased from 12.3 per cent in 2002 to 16.4 per cent in 2008.

Participation by young men from similar backgrounds hovered at about 9 per cent between 2002 and 2004, rose to 10.7 per cent in 2005, but then declined to 9.9 per cent in 2006, the year in which the current fee system was introduced. Only in 2008 did participation among men from lower-income families exceed 2005 levels, and then by just 0.4 per cent.

This, combined with the removal of statutory bursary provision, gives little comfort to those who believe that the Browne Review's proposals will bolster participation among people from all backgrounds. Those with parents in graduate jobs are already twice as likely to go to university as those from families in non-graduate employment.

As David Willetts puts it in The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children's Future - And How They Can Give it Back (2010): "Travelling the distance from being a child in East London to working in the City skyscrapers you can see from the school playground may require a journey of almost epic proportions. The competition for jobs in the professions is like English tennis, a competitive game, but largely one the middle classes play against each other."

Martin Hall, Vice-chancellor, University of Salford.

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