Letter: The higher education we deserve

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The Independent Online
Sir: I was saddened by the arguments contained in the article 'Everybody can't be somebody' (9 August) by Lincoln Allison. When every other advanced nation in the world - many of them our trading competitors - consider it essential that higher education should be open to all those able to benefit from it, as a vital requirement of national economic success and prosperity, it seems extraordinary to cavil against this same opportunity being available to people in Britain.

But, of course, higher education is about much more than simply improving personal career prospects. The widening of horizons and development of learning skills which it offers enrich the quality of life of students and will benefit them throughout their lives.

This does not mean that the form of higher education offered to the 30 per cent of young people now taking advantage of it has to be exclusively modelled on that of the traditional universities. Fresh and innovative approaches to higher education are needed and indeed some of the newer universities and colleges are experimenting in exciting ways. Open and distance learning have a key role to play, as have the encouragement and provision of higher education opportunities throughout life.

In part, the new and 'flexible' ways of obtaining a degree which Mr Allison criticises are a response to the need for greater comparability between academic and professional qualifications in the EU member states if the freedom to live and work throughout the Community is to become a reality.

Where most people would agree with Mr Allison is in his criticism of higher education having been expanded on the cheap in Britain. Of course we must insist on efficiency and sensible economies, but it can only fulfil the expectations we have of it if government and public are prepared to ensure it is adequately funded. To those who say we can't afford this, my response is to quote the saying 'if you think education is expensive, try ignorance'.

Yours sincerely,

MICHAEL ELLIOTT

MEP for London West (Lab)

Greenford, Middlesex

10 August

The writer was European Parliament Labour spokesperson on Education and Culture, 1989-1994.

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