New and in tune

October 13, 2011

Many traditional universities may be ignoring market trends and thereby endangering their future student numbers ("Exclusive elite fails to attract poorer students", 29 September).

The most recent Universities and Colleges Admissions Service digest allowing comparisons (30 June) shows that pre-1992 universities attracted fewer applicants than at the same time last year, whereas only eight post-1992 universities showed a similar trend. There are indications that this may be the result of a significant class shift in applications, evident in Scotland for several years although reversed last year, as shown by a recent report from the Scottish Funding Council that apparently went largely unnoticed south of the border.

If we take regional location as a proxy for socio-economic characteristics, at least at broad-brush levels, the number of applicants from the South East of England was down by 0.6 per cent; in the North East it was up by 2.2 per cent and in Greater London by 2.6 per cent. So, modern universities are more in tune with the modern market, and most are willing to extend entry to embrace this shift while enhancing social mobility. Why, then, should the government want to "nudge" applicants towards universities that are less committed and less suited to their needs?

Ian McNay, Professor emeritus, University of Greenwich

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