Children need hard sell to go to college

June 30, 2000

Universities should consider promoting higher education to young teenagers and even primary school children in their bid to widen participation, MPs heard this week, writes Alan Thomson.

Academics, representing a consortium of eight universities and colleges in the four East Anglian counties, told members of the Commons' education select committee that universities should start "selling" higher education to 13-year-olds in year eight and to even younger children.

Chris Green, director of Anglia Polytechnic University's regional office and chairman of the consortium steering group, said: "We are all concerned about getting children further and further back in education. For many (young people) in the region the issue of higher education was not one of they cannot afford it. It was just that they were not interested in it. They just could not see the relevance of it."

Professor Green told the committee that research carried out in the region by the consortium, which calls itself the Four Counties Group, had revealed "hot" spots, with high numbers going to university, and "cold" spots, where participation was low.

High participation areas were generally more affluent although there was no straight correlation between wealth and participation, Professor Green said. Other influences included whether parents went to university and how well informed young people were about higher education before applying.

Meanwhile, independent school heads have warned against diluting the A-level gold standard for university entry and against quotas for state pupils.

Philip Evans, head teacher at Bedford School, told the committee on Wednesday that university entry should be on merit. He said that it would be a "dangerous move" to start ignoring private school candidates with better all-round qualifications in favour of state school pupils.

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