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University access: Les Ebdon will make no difference

The Daily Telegraph is aghast at yesterday’s appointment of Les Ebdon as head of the Office for Fair Access, openly voicing its fear that he will force ‘our’ best universities to take ‘less well-qualified candidates’.

I’m not quite sure just who the personal pronoun applies to in this context, but if the writer of those words is not talking in class terms, he or she might as well be.

Candidates with the best A-level scores are disproportionately drawn from the privately educated, of course, and therefore disproportionately likely to be the sons and daughters of Telegraph readers.

At bottom, the objection amounts to revulsion at the possibility that even a slightly higher proportion of fast track tickets to the most prestigious occupations will have to go to the slightly lower orders.

But of course one has to be careful about how one says these things these days, and instead of phrasing it quite like that, the Telegraph editorial bases its case on a critique of Ebdon produced by a group of Tory MPs that masquerades under the risible designation of the Fair Access to University Group.

FAUG is all in favour of ‘removing barriers’ and ‘realising potential’ and encouraging ‘poorer youngsters’ to strive for academic excellence by studying more intellectually rigorous subjects.

That is not going to happen for these ‘poorer youngsters’. Even within state schools, educational outcomes are irreducibly class biased; so long as Britain is a class society, the children of middle class parents will on average secure better exam results than the children of working class parents.

Any quotas that Prof Ebdon sets will be filled overwhelmingly by that layer of middle class state school kids that previously made do with redbricks instead of Oxbridge.

In an era when student grants are gone and universities are charging the best part of thirty grand for a three-year undergrad course, the products of the places New Labour famously denigrated as Bog Standard Comprehensives will be just as excluded from ‘our’ best universities as they ever were.

One Comment

  1. Steve says:

    “disproportionately likely to be the sons and daughters of Telegraph readers.”

    I think you mean grandchildren!

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