Britain is being held back by the assertion that "more means worse" when it comes to university education, the Prime Minister has said, writes Rebecca Attwood. In his first major speech on education, Gordon Brown said that those who claimed the Government's target of getting 50 per cent of young people into higher education was a recipe for "dumbing down" were setting a self- imposed limit on the development of talent.
In a speech at Greenwich University last week, he said the country must leave behind its "culture of pessimism" and address the fact that just 10 per cent of unskilled workers' sons and daughters go to university.
With unskilled jobs disappearing and a rising demand for high-level skills, the argument that there was only limited "room at the top" had been defeated.
"Other countries are already above 50 per cent for young people going into higher education - indeed, Australia has a graduation rate of 59 per cent. Yet many in Britain say that to even consider going up to 50 per cent is a recipe for dumbing down," Mr Brown said.
"The result is that while we have some of the best world-class schools and world-class universities, still too many people do not get an excellent education."
Mr Brown announced a major investigation into how applications to universities from comprehensive schools in disadvantaged areas could be increased, led by the National Council for Educational Excellence, and with input from the sector and the Sutton Trust. The Government will continue to increase the number of university student ambassadors working in schools, build on its AimHigher programme and encourage universities to get involved with academies.
New 14-19 diplomas would be designed with universities and businesses, and every young person who did not aspire to higher education should aspire to an apprenticeship.
Mr Brown said he made no apology for saying that education was "the best economic policy", but he stressed that it was also "the greatest force for social progress".
In the Queen's Speech this week, the Government set out its plans to raise the education leaving age to 18 and to sell its student loans portfolio.
Education and Skills Bill
Requires all 16 to 18-year-olds to stay in education or training by 2015.
Sale of Student Loans Bill
This proposes that the Government should sell its student loans portfolio, raising £6 billion by 2010-11.
Human Tissues and Embryos Bill
Would regulate creation and use of human embryos outside the body.