Vince Cable defies Tories to to appoint Professor Les Ebdon as university access tsar

From the Telegraph:

Prof Les Ebdon will take up the key role as director of the Office for Fair Access later this year, charged with ensuring that working-class students are not deterred by tuition fees of up to £9,000, the Business Secretary announced.

Leading Tories, including Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, were said to be unhappy at Prof Ebdon’s appointment after he threatened universities with “nuclear” penalties if they missed targets for widening their student intake.

He has also criticised the “patchy” record of leading Russell Group institutions at increasing the number of students they take from state schools and poor neighbourhoods.

As director of the Office for Fair Access, Prof Ebdon will have the power to fine universities £500,000 or ban them from charging tuition fees of more than £6,000 a year.

Universities wishing to charge more than £6,000 must sign a contract with Prof Ebdon setting out how they will support students and attract more undergraduates from disadvantaged backgrounds.

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8 Comments

  • I’ve not seen any attributable comments from Ebdon, but he is reported to favour higher education quotas for higher education.

    This is both an attack on the excellence of our universities and highly liberal. If there is a problem with state schools then that problem should be fixed. What we should not do is compensate for the problems of the comprehensive schools by degrading our universities.

    Admissions tutors are already able to, and do, discriminate between talent and polish and we do not need some overpaid quangocrat meddling in their affairs.

  • Andrew Tennant 20th Feb '12 - 7:54pm

    I’m in favour of a higher education quota too – a minimum grade requirement for students to enrol on any publicly funded course, and a limit on the number of publicly funded places available annually at much lower than 50% of the cohort population.

  • Andrew Tennant, I wouldn’t disagree with any of that.

    I note that Professor Ebdon is another Grammar School product.

  • “This is both an attack on the excellence of our universities and highly liberal.”

    Shome mishtake shurely?

  • Chris – shurely yesh – smartphones don’t like the word “illiberal” 🙂

  • On this occasion, Vince Cable consulted, looked at the evidence, and once again, totally ignored it and made the wrong decision.

    Firstly, I see no hard evidence that state schools are actually producing sufficient numbers of potential university candidates. Secondly I see no hard evidence that state schools, particularly those with catchment areas that include working-class or poor neighbourhoods are doing enough to encourage and groom their students for university entrance. Hence I fail to see the logic of Ebdon’s (and by implication Cable’s) approach.

    But then what would I know; I’m only a graduate from a working class background and who previously attended a state school… And because of my education can now be dismissed as being middle class…

    Aside: I find it telling that this has been posted as a news quote and a search of this site reveals no article in favour of Cable’s appointee…

  • Richard – I remember an article on this very site that showed that when you look at the proportions of candidates with 3 As at A-Level from State and Private schools, those proportions are mirrored in Russell Group entrance. So the Universities are accepting entrants on their merit as they arrive at them. The real issue as you rightly point out is that that proportion is heavily weighted in favour of private schools, and the State School’s end is only kept up by the small number of grammar schools* still remaining. It is not the Universities’ role to mask the failures of the state education system.

    * – grammar schools being less socially-segregated than so-called “non-selective” faith and community comprehensive schools http://www.suttontrust.com/research/evidence-on-the-effects-of-selective-educational-systems/

  • “It is not the Universities’ role to mask the failures of the state education system.”

    But shouldn’t it be the universities’ role to select on their best judgment of intrinsic aptitude, rather than simply exam results – which can obviously be influenced by “the failures of the state education system”? I actually thought that was what you meant when you referred to admissions tutors distinguishing between “talent and polish.”

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