Spence and snobbery 2

August 27, 2004

In spite of Sir Peter Lampl's references to the "many excellent new universities" and their "many fine courses" (Soapbox, August 20), thereis no escaping the fact that he is stuck in a rut of snobbery when it comes to his obsession with getting "the missing 3,000" state-school pupilsinto "our leading universities".

The notion of a "leading university" is a questionable one. Sir Peter gets his definition from newspaper league tables. No doubt some of the universities that pass muster in his eyes will have been founded in the 1960s. I joined one such university in the 1970s. "Old university" people often looked down their noses at such institutions then.

Even when the brash newcomers began to establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with, the concession that some were "excellent" was usually qualified with the backhanded compliment that their "excellent" courses focused on "vocational achievement", an approach now taken by Sir Peter. If you worked at Bath or Warwick universities in the 1970s, you will have heard it all before.

In a true meritocracy, a university proves its worth by being fit for purpose. Sir Peter should wake up to the reality of modern Britain, stop telling state-school pupils what is good for them and concentrate on enabling underprivileged youngsters to get into the university of their choice. By harping on about the supreme desirability of getting into Oxbridge and "other leading universities", Sir Peter is helping to perpetuate the snobbery that continues to be a blot on the UK educational landscape.

David Head
Director, Plymouth Business School
Plymouth University

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