'Amateurish' UK must widen access for poor

August 25, 2000

Universities must significantly increase their intake of poorer students, according to a "watershed" report on access to be published this autumn.

The Commons' education sub-committee report, due in October, will call for a much better partnership between universities and government to tackle the chronic under-representation of certain social groups in higher education.

It will call for greater financial incentives from government for widening participation and for a more professional approach to recruitment from the sector.

The select committee's chairman, Barry Sheerman (Labour, Huddersfield), said: "We are trying to produce a seminal work on access. A real watershed report with some positive suggestions as to how access can be improved without the watering down of standards."

Mr Sheerman said that the report would be critical of the present access situation. He said that universities were making progress but that it is limited by a lack of resources and a lack of professionalism.

Evidence given to the committee earlier this year highlighted the difference between the "amateurish" approach to recruitment of universities in the United Kingdom and the well-funded and proactive approach at institutions in the United States.

Mr Sheerman said: "It is about much more competence in the management of recruitment. For different types of institutions this will mean different challenges, to fit in with different institutional missions."

The committee's decision to publish an access report follows the public debate about access sparked by Magdalen College's decision to reject state-school pupil Laura Spence. Chancellor Gordon Brown called the Oxford college's decision a scandal.

The committee had already announced a wider inquiry into higher education and added access to its remit. The access report will be published before the full higher education report. The wider higher education inquiry is ongoing.

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