A question of academic and social elitism

Share
Related Topics

No doubt Professor Steven Schwartz's report on higher education will be interpreted in some quarters as evidence of the Government's desire to introduce "positive discrimination" into university admissions. Despite the professor's studious avoidance of that term, his proposal that universities should prefer students from ethnic minorities and disadvantaged backgrounds will heighten fears that fairness is being sacrificed for the sake of crude social engineering.

No doubt Professor Steven Schwartz's report on higher education will be interpreted in some quarters as evidence of the Government's desire to introduce "positive discrimination" into university admissions. Despite the professor's studious avoidance of that term, his proposal that universities should prefer students from ethnic minorities and disadvantaged backgrounds will heighten fears that fairness is being sacrificed for the sake of crude social engineering.

It is true that positive discrimination, in its purest form, has no place in higher education. Universities have to be academically élitist. Their role is to produce skilled graduates and carry out world-class research. They must discriminate between those applicants who can cope with the demands of a course, and those who cannot. The top universities must be even more rigorous. It is worth noting that some families would play a rigid positive discrimination system unfairly, moving children from independent schools into the local comprehensive before application time came round.

But Professor Schwartz is not advocating pure positive discrimination. If his suggestions were implemented, they would fall far short of a US-style affirmative action programme. He certainly does not advocate a quota system for ethnic minorities or the unprivileged. His proposals are essentially a plea for universities to make their admission policies more sophisticated, and recognise that many students from ethnic minorities, or poor backgrounds, are perfectly capable of thriving at university. Since subjective judgements are always, and inevitably, involved, this is a perfectly reasonable suggestion. And Professor Schwartz is careful to stress that admissions staff must make their primary assessment on the grounds of academic suitability.

The biggest flaw in university admission policies has been an entrenched social élitism where class counts for more than ability. This is particularly true in the most prestigious universities. The higher education sector is undergoing an unprecedented expansion, but universities, with some honourable exceptions, are failing to modify their admissions policies adequately. It is time to correct the balance.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Read Next
Former N-Dubz singer Tulisa Contostavlos gives a statement outside Southwark Crown Court after her trial  

It would be wrong to compare brave Tulisa’s ordeal with phone hacking. It’s much worse than that

Matthew Norman
The Big Society Network was assessed as  

What became of Cameron's Big Society Network?

Oliver Wright
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn