Helping the able to join the elite 1

January 30, 2004

Robert Stevens (Soapbox, THES , January 16) names Imperial College and Thames Valley University as exemplars of a feared two-tier system and elitism. An unfortunate choice, perhaps, in the light of the approval, two days earlier, by the senate of Imperial College of a collaborative scheme with Thames Valley University that creates a new pathway to an Imperial medical degree for TVU students. These students would not meet Imperial's traditional entry requirements but will have demonstrated their capacity and confidence to succeed, truly widening access.

Universities are elitist, as are all systems that are selective, but university selection should be on ability to benefit from the education on offer rather than other non-potential-based criteria.

Higher education is also tiered or, more precisely, differentiated. If, for example, you wish to read for a BSc in business management (equine), you would go to Imperial, while a BA in sports, health and fitness management could only be studied at TVU. Such focused offerings do not on the whole intersect.

There is no simple dichotomy. Ignoring the diversity of courses that universities offer is to misunderstand the nature of higher education today.

Neil Garrod
Deputy vice-chancellor
Thames Valley University

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