Let access open eyes

May 7, 2004

I find Frank Furedi's ideas useful in challenging commonsense assumptions. But in suggesting a link between widening access and students with an attitude of "you are here to serve me" ("They expect me to make life easier", April 30), he makes a false and potentially damaging connection.

In 12 years in higher education, the past three in undergraduate admissions, I have found that students who come to university through widening access opportunities do so with humbling gratitude and respect.

They need to be encouraged to see themselves as having an entitlement to learn alongside other students; they are often too accepting of what is on offer and rarely make demands of academics, whom they may see as "too busy", aloof or unapproachable.

This is not to disagree with Furedi's general point. The model of service provider and customer is pervading higher education, and increasing student numbers and pressures of research and administration mean that we lack time to build relationships with students. But widening access is not to blame for this.

On the contrary, students who entered university via non-traditional routes should help us re-examine what higher education has to offer in a changed world.

Viviene Cree
Associate dean (undergraduate admissions)
Edinburgh University

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