The former head of the Department for Education has spoken
out against preferential admission rules for working class students, arguing
that the scheme is “patronising” for those concerned.
Sir David Bell argued that giving students different offers
depending on their background was a “bad move” as competition for university
places was already fierce, adding that this initiative will only add to the
“I just think it is the wrong policy if you compromise on
standards,” he said.
Sir David is now the Vice-Chancellor of Reading University,
and is the first university chief to speak out against the process of making
‘adjusted offers’. However, he has supported the idea that there should be
wider access to universities.
According to the Universities and Colleges Admission Service
(UCAS), almost 90% of universities have signed up to its ‘contextual data’
service which gives the 260 (out of 300) universities a wealth of background
information on applicants. This includes information such as whether students
attended high- or low-performing schools and whether they live in poor or more
Liverpool, Warwick, Southampton, Glasgow and Queen’s
University, Belfast are the only institutions which aren’t yet using some form
of contextual data as part of their admissions process. However, Liverpool and
Southampton are contemplating using the system in the future.
Commenting on the policies adopted by Reading University,
Sir David said:
“We have a good variety of students coming from a good
variety of backgrounds.We want to encourage as many talented students as
possible but, to be clear, there is no compromise on standards when it comes to
“I personally care very much about widening participation
but I think it is about focusing efforts on students who might be close to
entry requirements to help them achieve the right level and giving them support
when they are here. We should all be interested in ensuring that all students
who have the ability come to university, and perhaps to the top universities
where the entry standards are higher.”
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