Chalk Talk: Want a postgrad degree? Then you’ll need a rich grandma


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The Independent Online

There has been a lot of controversy over the difficulty in recruiting students to post-graduate courses of late.

The fees hike to up to £9,000 a year for undergraduates has had the effect of putting off degree holders from incurring more debts, it seems.

According to Professor Les Ebden, director of the Office for Fair Access – the university-access watchdog – it’s a question of “grandma’s house” syndrome.

If your grandma happens to have a house at her disposal that she is willing to sell off, you could be all right, he told a conference in London. If not, you could be snookered.

Professor Ebden made these comments while delivering a keynote speech to a conference organised by the Westminster Higher Education Forum. It was the first time many of the media had seen him in action in public since he took over at OFFA in September.

It was not the fire-and-brimstone  speech that we might have been led to anticipate by the controversy surrounding his appointment when Conservatives on the Commons business, innovation and skills select committee sought unsuccessfully to block his appointment on the grounds he was a rabid opponent of government policy – threatening to press the “nuclear” button at elite universities who failed to recruit more students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Yes, there had to be demanding targets for recruitment, he opined. If an institution met all its targets with ease,  it would suggest they had been too easy  in the first place.

However, he all but ruled out fining universities that failed to meet them, preferring the route of negotiation and discussions to solve the problem.

It will be interesting to witness his first scrutiny session with the select committee. So far, I cannot see anything they could hang him on.

Meanwhile, back on a well-worn theme  – people with appropriate names for their jobs. The deputy director of the Catholic Education Service is a Mr Pope. No need to say any more at the interview, I guess.