Fairer not lower entry

July 14, 2006

I agree with Maria Misra that forcing universities to admit students from non-privileged backgrounds through a quota system is the wrong way to reverse the trend of declining social mobility in Britain, and that action on a broader front is needed (Working Know-ledge, June 30).

But in making this point she fuels the common misconception that fair access to university is about lowering entry standards for certain students, simply because of their background. This is not the case.

Research from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, funded by the Sutton Trust, shows that each year there are 3,000 students from state schools who have the A-level grades necessary to be among the 30,000 admitted to our dozen or so top-ranked universities but who, for various reasons, are not. The research also shows that state-school pupils must achieve two grades higher at A level to stand the same chance of being admitted to one of these institutions as their independent-school peers.

Ensuring that our universities more accurately reflect the make-up of society is not about discriminating against independent-school pupils, "dumbing-down" or "social engineering". It is about giving all students a fair chance based on merit alone.

Tessa Stone

Director, the Sutton Trust

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