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Universities should have quotas for poorer students with great potential, urges Willetts

By Tim Montgomerie

WILLETTS DAVID This morning's Telegraph reports that Higher Education Minister David Willetts wants universities to set aside a specific number of places for applicants from poorer backgrounds and to allocate those places on the basis of potential rather than academic attainment.

In opposition the Conservatives publicly worried at growing educational inequality and Mr Willetts fears that without some sort of quota system the problem will only grow. Privately-educated pupils, for example, are three times as likely to achieve the new A* super grade for A-levels. Willetts wants universities "to judge their intake by their potential as well as by what they have already achieved”. This could mean the further use of aptitude tests, set and controlled by universities as an alternative to A-levels for assessing applicants.

Mr Willetts told The Telegraph:

“All of our leading professions are essentially full of people who have [come] from a relatively small number of elite schools into the most competitive universities with three As at A level... I want the medical profession and the legal profession to have a diversity of people in them...

What universities cannot do is feel that they are fighting a class war. It is absolutely not acceptable for universities to chuck in the bin all the applications from children from independent schools. But British universities have always looked beyond A-level grades to other things such as applicants’ CVs, personal statements and their potential to benefit from a particular course.’’

Mr Willetts will certainly face the charge that he is engaged in social engineering and that it is not the job of universities to address the advantages given to children by family structure or by a good primary education.

The minister's intervention coincides with the publication of the Labour Market Outlook report. It finds that four out of ten employers believe that literacy and numeracy standards are declining among graduates and they are having to turn to immigrants for quality recruits.

12.15pm Douglas Carswell: Let universities decide which students they admit


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