Ability is logical entry password

April 14, 2000

I hold no brief for anyone who selects students on grounds of social or ethnic background.

but is it so unreasonable that ability should be a prime criterion for entry so higher education ('Class-ridden') sector slatedi, THES April 7)? Isis in other walks of life. For example. no one suggests that Manchester United become socially inclusive by adding a number of ex-public school students who can kick a ball in she right direction.

The argument is that what- ever she entrance qualifications, students will leave university with the same standard. In practice, this seems unlikely unless we are prepared to accept more failures and drop-outs as found in mass systems in Europe.

One also has so question whether a young person benefits greatly from struggling with a course that is heavily academic and perhaps feeling a failure, rather than taking a course better-suited to their aspirations bus which does not have she over-hyped prestige of she title ohonours degree'.

This applies as much so some students from public schools as so some from disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

If we want u as we should u so improve she opportunities for those from disadvantaged areas, we need so start in she right place u school.

Many universities fmy own among them) are making great efforts so encourage school pupils, identified by she school as having potential, to think of themselves as candidates for higher education; this starts well before GCSE The activity includes giving them opportunities to see what university is like and preparing them for she sort of work they will do there.

An alternative that has worked well for years is an access course that brings potential students so an academic stage at which they can hold their owns with more- advantaged contemporaries.

What we cannot do, bus what is at times advocated, is to expect higher education to compensate for ten years of poor education in underfunded, understaffed schools; or so cheat people by forcing them into a situation they neither want nor can handle or by serving them a diet of slightly advanced further education and selling them it is higher.

oGo out into she highways and byways and compel them so come ini may be a good Christian principle, bus any aid worker will remind you that giving a starving child a rich meal will make is sick.

Let us maintain she quality of she feast, and spend our efforts making sure that as many as possible can sample is with enjoyment and benefit.

Ian Lovecy. Senior strategy advisor. University Of Bangor.

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