Leading article: The advantage of information

Share
Related Topics

The finding that there has been no progress in recruiting more talented disadvantaged students to Britain's elite universities is terribly disappointing. However, the report by the Office for Fair Access (Offa) – the university admissions watchdog set up by the last government – comes up with some interesting reasons for the failure.

Often in the past, as demonstrated by Gordon Brown's outburst over Oxford University's refusal to admit the former comprehensive school pupil Laura Spence, universities have shouldered the blame for the heavily middle-class composition of our top universities. But today's report shows that the picture is more complex and that much of the problem lies in the schools themselves. Too often, pupils are pushed into subjects at GCSE and A-level that make it difficult for them to win place at the likes of Oxford and Cambridge. This can be a result of the pressure from exam league tables as schools strive to improve their relative position.

The suggestion from Sir Martin Harris, director of Offa, is that there could be another method of ranking schools, such as showing the destination of its former pupils. Michael Gove, the new Education Secretary, signalled his interest in such a move in education debates during the election campaign, so there should be no difficulty in introducing such a measure. Yet, in itself, this would not get to the bottom of exactly what subjects universities value (and do not value) when determining admissions. Universities need to liaise more with teachers at schools in the most disadvantaged areas so they can inform their pupils of the options they should aim for if they wish to seek places at the most competitive universities.

Another interesting feature of the Offa report is that the introduction of top-up fees appears to have been no deterrent for youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds seeking top university places. There was a slight decline between 1995 and 2005 – the year before top-up fees were introduced. However, the line is now being held.

That suggests that increased support available for poorer students is having an effect and that should the official review of student finance being carried out by Lord Browne recommend a rise in the top-up fee cap, there is little reason to fear it would be a major deterrent to applications from the less well-off. What the bright but disadvantaged need is not a free university education, but better information.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ACCA/CIMA - St Albans, Hertfordshire

£55000 - £58000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A truly exciting opportunity has ari...

Ashdown Group: Credit Controller - London, Old Street

£25000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Credit Controller - Londo...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Appointment Maker - OTE £19,000-£23,000

£15000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity to kic...

Ashdown Group: 1st Line Support Analyst

£18000 per annum: Ashdown Group: This role is a perfect opportunity for someon...

Day In a Page

Read Next
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million  

The Archers: how many sensational plot twists can it get away with?

Simon Kelner
 

Daily catch-up: winter crisis for the NHS – Miliband and Burnham don’t know how to fix it

John Rentoul
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness