Laurie Taylor column

January 18, 2002

Welcome to the UPEC - the University Pre-Emptive Committee. As you will recall, this committee was established last year with the aim of anticipating government initiatives in higher education and making appropriate responses. I'll now hand over to Professor Dingbat for a full report.

Thank you, vice-chancellor. Let me begin by congratulating this committee on last year's decision to expand student access. Our analysis of the government's capacity to raise the percentage of 18 to 30-year-olds entering higher education to 50 per cent by 2010 revealed that this might only be effected by offering places to students who would otherwise be rejected. I am pleased to record that 18 per cent of the students accepted by Poppleton last autumn were seriously underqualified.

Professor Dingbat. One small point. Were any of these underqualified students from disadvantaged backgrounds?

None at all. Economically disadvantaged students are more likely to drop out because of debt problems, so to meet the government's concern about high dropout rates, we made a strategic decision to concentrate on wealthy underqualified students. Now let me turn to new developments. The government appears to recognise that its 50 per cent target is unrealistic and is proposing one-year courses at university that might be counted as higher education. We are fortunately well placed to provide just such low-level courses. There is an even more interesting prospect. The education secretary, Estelle Morris, has begun to talk about the "higher education experience" rather than actual degrees.

You're thinking of specially designed courses?

Not exactly. What I had in mind was the purchase of a miniature train with a pre-recorded commentary by Magnus Magnusson that would take students on a thrilling one-hour journey through the main campus sights: the physics labs, the library and a selected senior common room. Diplomas would be dispensed at the end of the ride.

Fascinating. What can one say?

'Bon voyage'?

General knowing laughter

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