Super-selection only perpetuates privilege (1 of 2)

December 22, 2011

Baroness Blackstone is rightly concerned about the social filtering going on in UK higher education ("Super-selection creates a monoculture that does not benefit society", 15 December). It is interesting that although selection has always been a hot topic in secondary education, it has been widely accepted in tertiary education. Just as selective schools are often claimed to be our "best" schools because of very little to do with the quality of their teaching but a lot to do with who they keep out, we should start to question just what makes our "best" universities.

The Open University shows that selection by prior academic attainment is not necessary for thousands of people every year to achieve in higher education, nor for a university to achieve well in research. The reluctance of many other research universities to teach students across a range of ability should be debated much more than it is.

There will always be popular universities that have to ration places, but for bricks-and-mortar universities this could be done by geography just as well as by prior academic attainment. That might reduce the carbon footprint of higher education as well. The issue of super-selection is also closely tied up with the fixation of the "best" universities with super-concentrating research funding. This is a competition for prestige that threatens to create a monopoly of supply in universities that are doing just the same with what they perceive to be, and perpetuate as, the academic elite of the secondary system.

Tim Blackman, Milton Keynes

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