Clause 30 - General duties of relevant authority

Part of Higher Education Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:30 am on 4th March 2004.

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Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education) 9:30 am, 4th March 2004

Let me make two points. First, there needs to be some sort of threshold of achievement for getting into university. Surely we should tackle the problem of under-achieving young people in sink schools in inner- city areas who do not secure the necessary exam grades to go to university. Creating a university admissions system under which

the benchmark examination passes apply only to some people, based on social class, and not to others, is a difficult road because admission to higher education would be based not on achievement but on subjectivity. That is a huge mistake.

My second point, which tends to be missed, is that universities are great changers of social standing. I return to the example of my university friend. He is now a successful business man who lives in the countryside, having benefited from his university career. His children, under the Government's categorisation, are from a traditional background. We tend to forget that if the first person in a family to go to university is a target for social attention, the second generation immediately becomes part of the middle-class rich against whom we should discriminate. There is a danger that universities will be forced constantly to pull up from the bottom, but they are not social engineers; they are engines of achievement for the nation and it worries me profoundly when Labour Members see universities as vehicles to right wrongs lower down the education system.