Should universities be applauded for waking up to social diversity?

Copyright: BBC News 2018

A recent media report has indicated that Cambridge University is developing a programme to provide the opportunity for students from disadvantaged communities in the UK. The plan is to put such students, many of whom have not achieved the required A levels and passed the interview process, through a transitional programme, which will effectively provide them with a second opportunity to gain access to a university place.  Superficially, one could argue that this does mean that universities are waking up to full social inclusion and equality within the student selection process. However, along with others I would argue that such applause should be put on hold because the situation should not have arisen in the first place. Why you may ask. The reason for this is twofold.

The DRAGON in the University culture

Firstly, let us look the role of universities leading up to their current stance.  Certainly in the past two to three decades, in my view the mission of the University sector has changed from providing the highest quality of higher education to becoming more focused on the capitalist dragon – economics. As a result of the increase in the globalisation of UK higher education in terms of a) attracting foreign students, b) the desire of University management to attract more corporate sponsorship and c) a focus solely on improving the university ranking nationally and internationally.

In other words, I would argue that the search for capital and increased revenues rather than focusing solely on their main role, which is to provide education that will help the younger generation to develop their life, work and social skills. Therefore, it can be stated that this change of the university culture has diverted their focus well away from its original objectives, namely education.

The MONSTER in the Education system

The second problem is related to the development of the UK government’s education policies over recent years.  In this respect, despite the introduction of equality and anti-discrimination legislations, it appears the spirit of these regulations have not been transformed into appropriate financial and other resources, as well as social support for schools in poorer areas. It is this Monster of educational policy in the UK that is causing such a level of disparity between schools. Therefore, it is perhaps not surprising to find that it is more difficult for children from these environments to reach the qualifying levels of university entrance standards.  Given the correct level of resources and quality of teaching support, children and students from these areas can achieve the same level educational achievement as any of their peers from more prosperous locations.

Will the new policy work?

This is the most important question to ask of the new Cambridge policy. It is difficult to see how this policy will make a material difference to the large numbers of aspiring students from these ‘disadvantaged’, or as I would prefer to say ‘resource poor’ areas wishing to further their higher education. Firstly, to make a significant difference there needs to be a change in government educational policy to one that fully reflects the concept of equality for all students. Secondly, from the university viewpoint, one has to wonder whether this is simply an effort to improve the image of its brand, as recent educational problems associated with universities, including management pay structures and the issues related to fees does have an adverse effect on trust in these institutions


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