True indicator is a job at the end

December 10, 1999

The opening paragraph of your front-page story states that "the myth that new universities are better than old at social inclusion was shattered today by the publication of the sector's first performance indicators".

This staggering conclusion seems to be based on the performance of one or two new universities and says far more about your own not-so-hidden agenda than it does about the performance indicators. A more thorough analysis shows that for old universities 19 per cent of students were from lower social classes against the benchmark 21 per cent, compared with 33 per cent and 30 per cent respectively for the new universities. For low-participation neighbourhoods old universities had a figure of 8.8 per cent (benchmark 10.5 per cent) compared with the new universities' 14.3 per cent (benchmark 14.7 per cent).

In plain language, the new universities provide far greater social inclusion than the old universities on both measures and also perform relatively better in comparison to their benchmarks. Not such an interesting story but accurate.

Now the idea of benchmarking has been introduced by HEFCE for assessing teaching performance, perhaps it should be considered for research too. An analysis of performance in next year's research assessment exercise, benchmarked against what institutions achieved last time and their subsequent HEFCE research funding, would make interesting reading.

Leslie Wagner

Vice-chancellor, Leeds Metropolitan University

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