Clause 30 - General duties of relevant authority

Part of Higher Education Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 4th March 2004.

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Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Conservative, Hertsmere 11:00 am, 4th March 2004

My hon. Friend makes an important point. What does the Minister think the effect of all that financial pressure will be on universities? I look forward to hearing his answer. I suggest to him and other Labour Members that the Government are overriding the merit principle of admissions and, importantly, the independent academic judgment on admissions that should be part of academic freedom. The Government may say that they are not interfering with that freedom, but the only freedom that academics will be left with is to choose how to do what the director of fair access and the Government tell them to do.

The proposal will put academics and university departments in an invidious position. They might find themselves saying, ''On strict merit, X is the best candidate, but if we admit him we may be penalised for taking too many students from his type of school.'' The pressure to override merit will probably be greatest in elite universities and in over-subscribed subjects such as law, English and psychology. That will be unfair on academics, whose judgment will be overridden; they are being asked to do the Government's and OFFA's dirty work. It will also be deeply unfair on applicants, who will suffer because of factors in their background that are unrelated to academic merit.

I shall quote once again—I can do no better than to do so—from the fair-minded article in the Evening Standard. [Laughter.] Labour Members may like some parts of the article, but they should read all of it. Perhaps the Minister can answer the question that it poses:

''What does Mr. Clarke propose to say to the 18-year-olds turned down despite meeting the necessary standards? They chose the wrong parents? Or the wrong postcode'',

or whatever would be wrong under the definition of a broadly based intake that the Minister is to supply later?