Lord Mandelson, take note: social engineering is not the way to break middle-class stranglehold on universities

As thousands of students received their A-Level results and discovered whether or not they had got into their chosen university, Lord Mandelson prepared plans to overhaul the entire higher education admissions system. He has ordered officials to investigate the potential of schemes that give lower A-Level grade offers to students from poorer backgrounds, with the aim of increasing social mobility in Britain by widening access to top universities.

While the intention behind these plans is laudable, this method to redress the class imbalance in universities fails to tackle the real factors that affect social mobility.  By awarding concessions in the admissions process, this ‘head-start’ scheme removes the motivation to reach for the top grades on the part of the student and the school.  Is it not rather condescending to send the message to poorer students that they have a different, lower set of expectations to fulfil?  And how can schools serving students from less affluent backgrounds truly encourage pupils to push themselves to their intellectual limits and achieve the top grades when doing so is unnecessary?

Instead of pouring money into a new bureaucratic process to assess a student’s financial background prior to giving them a university offer, the government needs to spend more money on improving schools so they can better help pupils realise their potential. Only by increasing the supply of poorer students with top grades will the middle-class stranglehold on universities be broken in a way that is fair for everyone. Real social mobility means transcending your background and class through your own efforts, not as a result of social engineering on the part of the government.

Justine Moat

3 Comments on this post.
  • Daniel
    23 October 2009 at 01:54
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    If like the author of this article I attended a school costing some £7000+ per annum I too would be describing efforts to widen participation as “social engineering”.

  • Vanessa
    26 October 2009 at 19:28
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  • Dave Jackson
    1 November 2009 at 17:12
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    That’s quite the conspicuous ad hominem you’ve got there, Daniel.

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