Letter: It's not how many go in, but how many come out

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Sir: Your report that Britain is almost at the bottom of the European ladder when it comes to young people entering universities should come as no surprise to anyone who has been keeping up with such statistics. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has consistently and, alas, accurately placed us near the bottom of the pile.

I hope that Michael Portillo has also digested these figures. He believes, it would seem, that we already have more than enough undergraduates, and should be charging them full tuition fees, making them borrow the money to pay for an education that is meant to help the nation's economic well-being.

I only wish Mr Portillo - and John Patten, for that matter - could have sat where I was sitting yesterday, watching this university's business, science, computing and engineering graduates striding across the huge Barbican stage to be congratulated on their achievements by Leslie Wagner, the Vice- Chancellor.

For many of our graduates - including a substantial number from ethnic minority backgrounds - it has been a genuine struggle to enter higher education and afford to follow a three- or four-year course of studies. Yesterday, their parents, husbands, wives and, in many cases, children, sat in the audience, rightly glowing with pride. They are the best proof that Mr Portillo and Mr Patten are mistaken in their beliefs that Britain has enough undergraduates and that the flow should cease.

As Leslie Wagner put it at the Barbican ceremony yesterday:

An economically strong nation which wishes to be an equal partner with Europe needs a well-educated, skilled, professional and contented workforce. Its government should do all in its power to respect and nurture our students for they represent the country's hopes and aspirations. To diminish their opportunities is a disservice to the nation's future.

Yours faithfully,


Director of Public Affairs

University of North London

London, N7

9 December