Double trouble ahead

November 25, 1994

We are all familiar with what is happening to student grants. We are also told by the Government that higher education is already achieving the enrolment targets it set itself for the end of the century. It is increasingly unclear, however, whether these students will be able to contribute anything to the nation's wealth as many will find the financial pressures far greater than the academic ones and fail to complete their course.

Over the past few weeks another factor has emerged that is weakening higher education even further. Students with low or even fail grades at A level and who are normally advised to undertake a revision course or at best an HND have been offered places on degree courses at certain universities. I wonder how many colleagues have seen a sudden fall-off in enrolments for A-level revision courses this term.

The 2+2 degree courses offered by FE/HE colleges in partnership with universities positively attract this kind of student, with very good results. This new phenomenon, however, is simply a manifestation of the age-old numbers game. What makes it particularly reprehensible is that these students will be facing the double strain of financial pressures and academic pressures like never before. One of these on its own is often enough to force a student out of the system with no chance of returning in the future without paying for the year that was wasted. Together they promise disaster for the poor student with dodgy results who was tempted by a flattering university place.

The only group to see a real improvement in opportunity is the less able but well-heeled student who would not have received an HE offer a couple of years ago. Is that what was meant by a return to Victorian values? Over to you, Mrs Shephard.

ALAN DAVIDGE Stockport College of Further and Higher Education.

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