Leading article: A raw deal for a generation of students

Share
Related Topics

Amid the usual scenes of jubilation across the country today as students receive their A-level results, there will be an unusually large amount of dejection. And, in a bitter irony, it will be concentrated among some of the brightest school- leavers. More than 3,000 students who have achieved three A-grade passes are expected to find themselves without a university place to look forward to in the autumn. They should probably not turn to the Universities minister, David Willetts, if they want to be cheered up. In an interview with
The Independent today Mr Willetts advises students who find themselves in such a predicament to apply to "slightly less competitive" universities next year.

The injustice here is glaring. These are young people who have done everything asked of them by parents, teachers and politicians: they studied hard, aimed high, and achieved the best possible grades. And their reward is to be told they should lower their expectations.

Nor does the unfairness end there. More than 170,000 young people who have applied to university this year are expected to fail to secure a place. They may not all be top academic performers, but most will have done as well as the students of previous years who won places.

With respect to the straight-A students who have missed out, we will doubtless hear the traditional argument that standards have slipped and that an A grade is not the indicator of achievement it used to be. And in a crude sense that is true. More students than ever are attaining top grades in these exams, making it increasingly difficult for elite universities to decide which students to admit. Disappointment for many excellent students aiming for the best universities was inevitable.

Yet this is by no means the whole story. This year's disappointment for thousands of students is also a result of the squeeze being imposed on the higher education budget by the Government. Demand for university places is growing. A record 660,000 people applied to start undergraduate courses this year, a 12 per cent increase on last year. These numbers have been swelled by tens of thousands who missed out on university places in 2009.

The problem is that the Government is refusing to expand supply to meet the surge in demand. Many universities have been warned that they will be fined if they take on more than their allocation of students. The Government should be expanding provision of education at a time when the economy is still weak and many are looking to acquire skills. That it is not doing so is, in part, a result of the Coalition's determination to reduce public spending on an accelerated timetable.

It is true that the university sector needs reform. And some of Mr Willetts' ideas for reshaping higher education – introducing two-year degrees and encouraging people to study closer to home – are sensible. But that should not be allowed to distract attention from the fact that tens of thousands of the present generation of school-leavers have been handed a raw deal by this Government.

In a twist of the knife, this comes a day after the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, made a speech announcing the Coalition's intention to improve social mobility in Britain. As Alan Milburn, the Government's new reviewer of social mobility, noted in a report last year, the alumni of the elite universities have a firm grip on the top professions, from the law to the Civil Service to Parliament. Mr Willetts might argue that attendance at a "less competitive university" is no long-term handicap to a bright student, but the facts suggest otherwise.

Mr Clegg says that promoting social mobility is a "long-term business". But this Government's short-sighted decision to squeeze the higher education sector at a time of burgeoning demand will surely not speed up the delivery of the fairer society he describes.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: IT Cloud Support Engineer

£25000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a team player who likes...

Recruitment Genius: Skilled Machinist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of additional skilled machini...

Recruitment Genius: Toolmaker

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of additional skilled toolmak...

Langley James : Head of IT; e-commerce; Blackburn; up to £55k

£50000 - £55000 per annum: Langley James : Head of IT; e-commerce; Blackburn; ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Sting may be in for a shock when he tries to save his Broadway musical

David Lister
 

David Cameron’s immigration speech: I broke my promise; this time will be different

John Rentoul
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game