There always was a distribution of quality in UK universities but it was, on the whole, small enough for a common concept of "university" to apply. This no longer holds. Robert Walls gives examples of the reasons why and we have all come across similar cases of astoundingly low quality at, predominantly, the new universities.
The reality is that differences in practices are leading to the tarnishing of the respectable middle and the fragmentation of the system as the top universities seek to distance themselves from those at the bottom.
No one is helped when students with bad A levels are taken into bad universities and given bad degrees. What students with weak A levels need is a chance to re-take. Allowing them to progress merely hides the inadequacies of state schools, removing the information feedback which might otherwise force us to give all young people a proper education at all levels. Until this comes about universities have, sadly, only two realistic choices: reject weaker students ("elitism!") or lower standards ("erosion!").
Dr DAVID C LANE
London School of Economics and Political Science
(University of London)