Indicators fail to perform well

October 13, 2000

Behind many of the statements about performance indicators there is an assumption that the population of higher education should reflect the population of the country and that if it does not, it is the fault of institutions.

While I could perhaps accept the first of these, would it hold up if applied to almost any other grouping? Does the average Premiership football team reflect the composition of society? Does the House of Commons? Does the Treasury?

But even if the sector were to accept this as an aim, it would only be within its control if, like secondary education, it accepted students irrespective of their educational attainment. Any attempt to do this would lead to a lowering of standards or to a higher failure or dropout rate. This can be seen not only from the present correlation of wide intake and high dropout but from the variation in achievement within the average comprehensive school.

It would be interesting to look at the social mix of those remaining in education after the age of 16 and those returning to further education to take A levels and to compare this with the intake of universities. While some institutions would probably still score badly, I suspect that the sector would reflect the social mix of those who might consider higher education.

That would enable the focus to be placed on motivating and enabling a wider range of pupils to consider higher education as an option. Of course the sector has a part to play, but to advocate this is very different from promulgating the present calumny of elitism.

Ian Lovecy

Senior strategy adviser

University of Wales, Bangor

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