When diverse becomes perverse 2

April 26, 2002

One question prompted by your article "More strings and less cash as v-cs revolt" ( THES , April 19) suggesting that universities will be expected to specialise more is: would a university specialising mainly in widening participation be worth attending?

In the US, I have heard the expression "perverse access" to describe a system that is "open" in its provision of a great number and a wide array of institutions but in doing so cuts off many of the most socially disadvantaged students from access to the mainstream of higher education and the labour market by confining them in ghetto institutions.

In the UK, there is undoubtedly a need to achieve some repositioning of the academy to meet the needs of new kinds of students. But if this occurs primarily between institutions and is associated with what Sir David Watson of Brighton University has called a greatly extended "reputational range" among institutions, access will be merely "perverse".

David Jary
Visiting professor, LTSN Subject Centre for Sociology, Anthropology and Politics, University of Birmingham and research professor Staffordshire University

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