“Access” and Britain’s New Tuition Plan

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This one is fun. Dominic Lawson argues in the Independent that the United Kingdom must not make the horrible mistake of trying to offer a university education to everyone. As he grumbles:

[A]… rigorous attempt to analyse results within Oxford and Cambridge was produced by Professors McCrum, Brundin and Halsey. After charting the outcomes over a 25-year period, they discovered that the undergraduates’ A-level results had been exactly predictive of their performance at degree level, with no significant deviation caused by whether they had previously been educated within the private sector, or not. The only difference, oddly, was that while Oxford male science undergraduates from the state sector did slightly better than their privately-educated colleagues, in Cambridge it was the privately educated scientists who outperformed their contemporaries from state schools. The overall conclusion to be drawn from this research was that Oxford and Cambridge had been very fair and skilful in their admissions procedures.

Apparently the two most selective universities (admissions work a little differently over there, with students being admitted to individual colleges, not the universities as a whole, but still) are therefore doing a damn good job educating people. Any efforts to ensure “that British universities increase their openness to all would-be students,” as the government recently proposed, are therefore to be resisted. Lawson writes:

[The government] wants to improve what it calls “social mobility” and regards the leading universities as a means to that end. As Amol Rajan observed in a magisterial essay in these pages yesterday: “A system founded on the idea of intellectual elitism has been recast as a vehicle for mass participation. We have gone from a system founded on the principle that university is for the brightest, regardless of background, to one in which university is for all, regardless of ability.”

Well that certainly might be the rhetoric of David Cameron’s coalition government, but that’s not actually policy. There’s really no need to worry about the decline of the scared Oxbridge standards.

In December the House of Commons passed a bill, supported by Cameron, to almost triple tuition at British universities.

That’s dramatic structural change and one that will surely reduce the chances of all but the most carefully intellectually groomed students being able to attend the UK’s best schools.

If you talk about making something more accessible and at the same time dramatically raise the price of that thing, you have made it less accessible. This is true no matter how you talk about it. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer