Private ways to advance

October 30, 2014

Alan Milburn is clearly right to highlight the role of higher education in social mobility, but frustratingly, the focus is still on the few, getting the “gifted” minority into traditional universities (“Milburn tells universities to put ‘shoulders to the wheel’ ” on access”, 20 October).

A target of an extra 5,000 students from free school meals backgrounds by 2020 is modest (as a proportion of the annual 465,000 intake), to say the least. And crucially, the aim is wrong-headed. Getting into a top university might make a wonderful story for a trickle of individuals, but it won’t do anything for the UK’s (embarrassing) problems with child poverty and social mobility. The evidence (this year from the National Union of Students and the University Alliance) suggests that students from disadvantaged backgrounds struggle to integrate into the university culture. This is where the private sector has so much potential, in delivering the kind of environment (less traditional and class conscious) and education (skills and employment-focused) that people from non-traditional backgrounds are looking for and thrive on. But, of course, it’s the private sector where the student number controls haven’t been lifted.

If politicians want to go beyond rhetoric on social mobility, they need to look again at the limitations and the inflexibility that hamper different approaches to providing quality higher education to new groups of students – and where lasting change can be achieved.

Debi Hayes
Deputy provost, GSM London

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Reader in Politics and Policy

St Marys University, Twickenham

Engineer

Cern

Professor of Anthropology

Maynooth University

Preceptor in Statistics

Harvard University

Postdoctoral Fellowship in Electrochemistry

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu
See all jobs

Most Commented

Doctoral study can seem like a 24-7 endeavour, but don't ignore these other opportunities, advise Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman

Matthew Brazier illustration (9 February 2017)

How do you defeat Nazis and liars? Focus on the people in earshot, says eminent Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt

Laurel and Hardy sawing a plank of wood

Working with other academics can be tricky so follow some key rules, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

Improvement, performance, rankings, success

Phil Baty sets out why the World University Rankings are here to stay – and why that's a good thing

Warwick vice-chancellor Stuart Croft on why his university reluctantly joined the ‘flawed’ teaching excellence framework