New Clause 1 — General Duties of the Director
Higher Education Bill
Mr David Rendel (Shadow Minister (Higher Education), Education & Skills; Newbury, Liberal Democrat)
I think that we are all saying much the same thing, and that I should now make some progress.
At present, independent schools are selling themselves largely on their ability to produce better A-level grades than state schools for pupils with the same ability. Universities should therefore take the opportunity of choosing state school applicants with lower grades, rather than those from independent schools; but the choice must be made on the basis of a number of criteria. Past exam success clearly makes a difference, and it is one of the measures that universities can use fairly not just in respect of A-levels, but in respect of earlier exams. Current tests of potential along the lines of the American SATS are a possible method of differentiation. The application form itself may give universities a hint, and pupils could perhaps send examples of written work to show what they had achieved in the past. Interviews are another possibility, as are teachers' assessments. If teachers are at all fair in their assessments, the best way of judging the ability and potential of young people may be what is said by those who have known them best at school.
New clause 1 would, I hope, produce a fairer way of choosing university students than the methods currently used in some universities. It is only fair to add, however, that a certain level of resources would have to be invested. It is quickest and simplest for universities to choose between applicants on the basis of A-level grades; if these more complex and subtle, but fairer, methods are adopted, universities must put in more money than they do at present.
New clause 2 would remove from the Welsh Assembly some of its rights to determine how university admissions are handled. That clearly conflicts with the whole principle of devolution to the Assembly. I should like the maximum number of powers to be devolved, and I believe that these powers should be included.