Bristol cries 'no-win' over access

March 7, 2003

Funding chiefs today cut Bristol University's teaching grant for failing to recruit enough students from poorer backgrounds, days after private-school heads agreed to boycott the university for allegedly discriminating against middle-class students.

Bristol's teaching grant for the next academic year has been cut by 1 per cent in real terms. The Higher Education Funding Council for England is shifting resources away from institutions that it thinks have too many privileged students to universities that support higher numbers of non-traditional students.

Although Bristol could not comment on its allocation as The THES went to press, one senior source at the university, who expected the bad news, said Bristol was in a lose-lose situation - penalised by the government and Hefce for not doing enough to help poorer students, and attacked by the powerful private-school headteachers for favouring them.

Headteachers of 440 leading private schools, represented by the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference and the Girls' Schools Association, said they would no longer recommend Bristol to their pupils until the university could guarantee they would be treated fairly.

• Education secretary Charles Clarke this week said that primary-school exam achievement was the key factor in determining access to higher education for poorer people, writes Alan Thomson.

Raising the proportion of 11-year-olds achieving level 4 in their Key Stage 2 exams was the single biggest factor influencing educational achievement throughout secondary school and into post-compulsory further and higher education, he said.

But he added that universities also had a role to play.

Some 75 per cent of 11-year-olds gain level 4, which is the government's benchmark achievement level, in English; 73 per cent gain level 4 in maths and 86 per cent gain it in science.

The government's target is that 85 per cent of pupils will achieve level 4 in all subjects by next year.

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