Shadow minister accuses Government of myopia

May 1, 2008

The Government's "short-sighted and blinkered" approach to widening access explains its failure to improve university participation among the working classes, the Conservative Shadow Minister for Higher Education said this week.

In a speech to the Universities Association for Lifelong Learning, John Hayes criticised the government focus on admission policies and aspirations among potential students.

John Denham, the Universities Secretary, recently announced plans for universities to publish their admissions policies to reassure the public that these are fair. "Labour's accusations of bias are unsubstantiated and unacceptable," Mr Hayes said. "Far from proving discrimination, the evidence is that applications are treated with admirable fairness."

Meanwhile, the millions of pounds poured into the AimHigher programme to raise aspirations have had no effect, he added. "Aspiration is not the core problem," Mr Hayes said. The problem was that aspirations of the less well-off were "routinely frustrated".

"Different lifestyles necessitate different learning experiences, such as part-time courses," yet often these were not available, he said. The college sector was best placed to provide these courses, he said, but growth in higher education courses in further education colleges was falling and the sector was hampered by "Byzantine bureaucracy".

The Tory MP for South Holland and the Deepings claimed that the Government had ignored "an impressive number" of education reviews. "The Leitch review ... recommended a fully demand-led approach ... but Government is now establishing three bodies (in place of the Learning and Skills Council), all with a mandate to plan supply in response to government targets."

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