Adonis draws barbs for 'elitist' university access programme

February 21, 2008

Announcing a £15 million package to help "gifted and talented" pupils win places at elite universities may sound like an uncontroversial move.

But when Schools Minister Andrew Adonis unveiled the plans he managed to ruffle feathers in the process.

The programme will see "Teach First" advocates, who are graduates recruited from elite universities, mentoring bright but disadvantaged pupils.

Lord Adonis's offence was to refer to the 20 research-led Russell Group universities as running the "most demanding" courses, prompting indignation from other quarters.

Michael Driscoll, vice-chancellor of Middlesex University, told Times Higher Education this week: "It can only be disappointing that a government department (the Department for Children, Schools and Families) is prepared to risk the reputation of British higher education at home and abroad with comments and a scheme that completely ignore the quality assurance system that underwrites all British universities, that is the envy of the world and that provides guarantees about course quality and standards for students at whichever British university they choose to study."

Pam Tatlow, chief executive of Million+, a think-tank with a membership of post-92universities, was also critical. "The scheme excludes graduates from the majority of universities, and this has been raised with ministers," she said.

"It would be very surprising if well-qualified graduates drawn from across the sector could not be equally good role models and teachers of students from more disadvantaged backgrounds.

"There must be question marks as to whether this differentiation between graduates and universities will really improve social mobility on a wide scale or support the UK's world-class university system," Ms Tatlow said.

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