Hugh Reilly clearly speaks from the heart when he deplores the ongoing lack of students from less affluent backgrounds taking up university places (Perspective, 20 November).
As someone from a working-class background who was able to go to university in the far off days when we actually had maintenance grants, I agree with him in the main, but there are a couple of points which he might want to consider.
First, positive discrimination in selecting students may be fine, but only if they then get the right help to achieve university level standards.
We are often reminded by would-be employers of graduates that many [graduates] do not now possess acceptable standards of literacy and numeracy, and access to higher education should not be accompanied by a consequent “dumbing down” of standards.
In spite of his heavy-handed and ill-timed attempts to move the goalposts on secondary education exam marking, Michael Gove was acting for many who believe standards have already slipped.
Secondly, with regard to employment, it is doing bright students a disservice to claim that a degree is a passport to a job – clearly in many cases it isn’t, especially with record numbers of graduates seeking employment. Given their belief that degree- level education does not necessarily indicate “employability”, many employers are also moving the goalposts and insisting on Master’s level qualifications – yet more cash outlay for those already in debt.
It would be better to stress the value of university education as a broadening of the student’s outlook, and an opportunity to access first-hand the work of top-class brains, rather than a passport to well-paid employment.
Lastly, higher education is not the right choice for everyone, and some people may not be ready for it in their late teens, but might well want to go for the option in later life.
Widening access should include these people too – in my experience they are often the most highly motivated learners.
(Dr) Mary Brown