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Alan Milburn and UK University entry for poor students

October 18, 2012

He seems (BBC news) to be forcing a change of the raison d’etre of Universities, which many of them seem to be taking lying down.

I thought the idea of entering University was to complete the 3 or more years of study and emerge with a valuable qualification. Mr Milburn is using phrases like “give places to all those with talent and potential”, “getting more pupils from non-traditional backgrounds into university”, “progress on to university” and “provide bright poor pupils with the chance to study for a foundation degree”. Nowhere (that I read) did he state or imply that his policies would result in the students obtaining degrees. And he wants to achieve this partly by offering poor and under-achieving A level students entry on the basis of lower than normal A level grades. The shortfall in learning, he thinks, can be made up by providing “a foundation year programme in all universities, where less advantaged youngsters will have the opportunity to catch up with their peers”.

I didn’t read anything about providing extra funding for this. Unless Universities are to turn away clearly able candidates, they’ll need to increase their intake – more staff, more rooms, more resources. Adding a year to a nominal 3-year course must mean approximately 33% extra costs. Where is the money coming from?

And, lastly, I didn’t spend 35 years in teaching without realising that determining the ‘true potential’ of a student and, hence, whether or not they are under-achieving is one of the hardest things to ask a teacher to do, especially if the student repeatedly obtains poor exam grades.

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