Letter: Places scarce only at prestige universities

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Sir: Your editorial ('An answer to two A-level questions', 21 August) states that there is a 'gross oversupply of arts students'. Is there any real evidence for this?

For many years I have dealt with telephone callers asking about vacancies in the clearing process. As a former sixth-form adviser, I often try to suggest alternatives to those candidates who are unable to find a place at Royal Holloway. This year I am conscious of what seems to be a significantly greater reluctance to consider the new universities when compared with the polytechnics a year or two ago.

I suspect that there are two main reasons for this. The polytechnics were seen, not always accurately, as offering something different, whereas the new universities are perceived simply as inferior versions of the old. Second, with almost 30 per cent of school-leavers going to something called a university, it is obvious that the intellectual demands of degree courses, and the value placed on them by employers, cannot be even vaguely similar. Parents and students simply do not believe the official 'equality' theory.

In all other countries where there is mass higher education there are very clear pecking orders. We are seeing the development of a similar process here. Students who hope to pass A-level with reasonable grades are concentrating their applications on a limited number of 'prestige' universities who are overwhelmed in popular subject areas, such as English, drama and history. It is this which results in hysteria in the press, not a shortage of places in the entire system. I suspect that anyone with DD will get an arts place somewhere if they want it.

Yours faithfully,


Schools and International

Liaison Officer

Royal Holloway

University of London



24 August