Senior Tory attacks Willetts' 'latent snobbishness'

David Willetts, the universities and science minister, has been attacked by a Tory colleague for showing "snobbishness" on university access and perpetuating an "authoritarian elitist fantasy" in his policies.

January 9, 2013

Brian Binley, vice-chair of the Business Innnovation and Skills committee, which scrutinises the department responsible for higher education, published an angry blog post in response to recent comments by Mr Willetts calling for working-class males to be treated as a fair access priority group.

The Northamptonshire South MP's blog post is titled "Patronising those who don't go to university is unbecoming and insulting".

The attack is a reminder that many on the Tory right have not forgiven Mr Willetts for appointing Les Ebdon as director of fair access.

Mr Binley appears to refer to Professor Ebdon as he writes: "I have become used to the Office for Fair Access making pompous, ill-informed interjections about universities not doing enough to attract this or that favoured, but, in their eyes, unprivileged group from making their way....my contemporaries and I didn't need a worthy professor shedding tears that we were able to make our way in the world without his impressive post-nominal accoutrements."

Mr Binley adds: "Last week's intervention by the 'universities' minister proved an attachment to that bizarre mentality which results in obsessing about 'quotas' and groups who may not be represented according to their proportion in the general population is quite unnecessary; and reveals a latent snobbishness quite unbecoming."

After criticising Labour policies such as the target to have 50 per cent of young people in higher education, he asks: "So why is David Willetts perpetuating this authoritarian, elitist fantasy?"

Mr Binley continues: "What these learned people need to remember is simple: there is nothing wrong with not having a degree, or opting for vocational training in place of university post-nominal distinctions."

And he adds: "Raising individual aspirations so that people can achieve their own economic and educational fulfilment should be a much greater priority - and a much harder task to achieve. And one that cannot be measured in contrived statistics or a phony debate about whichever sub-section of our population happens to be over- or under-represented. Little wonder Mr Willetts doesn't wish to tread that ground, methinks..."

john.morgan@tsleducation.com

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