Tories: grammars answer to access

October 10, 2003

New grammar schools will be established in Tory-controlled areas in a bid to widen participation in higher education, shadow further and higher education minister Tim Boswell said this week.

The plans to protect grammar schools and to create new ones were unveiled at the Conservative Party conference in Blackpool.

Commenting on the proposals, which are likely to be small-scale, Mr Boswell said: "If you are interested in widening participation, you have to provide opportunities for talented young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to properly prepare themselves for higher education.

"If you look at Oxbridge participation, there was a higher participation rate from state schools during my day and that reflected the success of grammar schools."

The policy meshed with proposals to direct less academic students into vocational training, Mr Boswell added. He said: "There is 100 per cent eligibility for further education at 16 years, and I would be happy with 100 per cent participation. Some of that will go into higher education."

At an earlier Universities UK fringe event, shadow education secretary Damian Green outlined how he saw the sector under the Tories. He said: "I want to see a continuum of universities, at one end of which is the traditional university and at the other is more of an FE college, rather than having a divide. I want to get away from the concept that if it's not badged as a degree, it's not worth having."

UUK president Ivor Crewe said: "Making a distinction between vocational and traditional courses is a mistake. Universities have always been in the business of vocational training, for example, teaching law and medicine."

He attacked Tory plans to scrap tuition fees by seeking savings elsewhere.

He said the widening participation premium had been taken from teaching grants and that Tory proposals to use the money to abolish fees would take cash from the same pot.

He added that any sum saved by the Tory proposals to scrap the Office of Fair Access introduced by Labour would result in "negligible" extra money.

Professor Crewe said: "If universities are prevented from charging variable fees, universities would be entirely dependent on central government for funding and be left with no autonomy. They would be Britain's last nationalised industry."

His call was echoed by David Varney, chairman of communications group O2, who said: "It would be a huge mistake not to let universities become markets."

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