Gatekeepers to the middle class

October 20, 2000

Ian Lovecy fails to acknowledge the pivotal role of universities in the reproduction of social inequalities (Letters, THES, October 13).

By continuing to admit only those who have acquired particular educational achievements - success which is largely determined by social class - universities have taken over from grammar schools as gatekeepers for the middle classes in allowing selective access to better-paid and more prestigious careers.

The continuing social exclusion of most working-class students is a scandal that would be unsustainable if it were a matter of gender or ethnicity - no one would defend a university system that allowed in 75 per cent of males and less than 20 per cent of females.

We need to accept all those able to benefit from higher education, not just those who have already managed to jump class-determined hurdles. This need not be incompatible with the maintenance of excellence. It will involve effort, expenditure and risk. The interpretation of student dropout rates from different institutions is perverse: it is precisely those universities with a high dropout rate that are demonstrating their ability and flair at attracting "marginal" students and demonstrating their commitment to furthering social inclusion. They need support to be successful in keeping more of these students on course.

Alistair Ross

Director, Institute for Policy Studies in Education

University of North London

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