Limited choice

May 16, 2013

Steve West’s contention that students need wide-ranging information to make their choice of university and course would be welcome if he were not simultaneously undermining it (“Working class law suits”, Letters, 2 May).

He approvingly cites the National Student Survey satisfaction score of 91 per cent recorded for the University of the West of England’s law programme. This might lead students to think that UWE would support such a well-regarded course, and that popular courses at the institution are both valued and safe from closure. Yet the politics and international relations programme West tried to close in February (before performing a public U- turn) scored substantially higher than law in the NSS: international relations achieved 95 per cent and politics a perfect 100.

Data such as the NSS figures are not the only things students consider. Increasingly, many look deeper into how universities are being managed, and decoding institutional “mission statements” is now essential. The clear message at some post-1992 universities is that “academic” subjects are best left to the Russell Group, and that post-92s are somehow leading the charge against elitism. Students may well have more data with which to make choices, but those choices are stymied by the shrinking of academic disciplines outside a favoured elite. West’s recent actions suggest that he does not think students should be making “academic” choices at his university. Nothing is more elitist than limiting the options of students who do not achieve AAA grades at A level and places at Russell Group institutions.

West’s complaint that “we need to stop focusing on some imagined idea about the ‘best’ universities” is disingenuous. “Best” universities would not threaten popular and effective courses or cut the breadth of academic offerings on the grounds that the Russell Group also provides them. Nor would they charge Russell Group fees without Russell Group opportunities.

Tony King

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