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HE reaction Thursday, 6 February, 2003, 13:06 GMT
Clarke defends university plan
Charles Clarke in Commons
Clarke: Universities' record "unacceptable"
Government plans to introduce a watchdog to make sure that universities do all they can to attract students from poor backgrounds have been under attack in the Commons.

The Education Secretary Charles Clarke faced accusations that the scheme - for what will be known as an Access Regulator - would be an "expensive waste of money".

Answering questions on education in the Commons, Mr Clarke said it was a disgrace that there was not better access to university for people from working-class homes.

Under the government's plans for higher education, the Access Regulator would check universities had an admissions system designed to encourage applications from students from non-academic backgrounds.

Treasury obsession

Conservative education spokesman Tim Boswell led the attack on the would-be watchdog.

"This proposed regulator, who represents the biggest ever sop to the Treasury's obsession with social engineering, will at best be ineffectual and at worst interfere with cherished academic freedoms," he said.

Charles Clarke defended the government's plans, saying the record of British universities in taking students from working-class families was "absolutely unacceptable".

"Many universities are addressing this question very effectively but there are too many universities which do not address this question effectively and that is why we need to have this regulator," he said.

"Many of the people who have got into universities from less conventional academic backgrounds have actually performed better than those from more academic backgrounds.

"The purpose of the admission process is both to recognise merit and attainment but also to foster potential."

Target setting

The idea of introducing an Access Regulator has gone down badly with the universities themselves.

Many see it as a further bureaucratic burden, or say it might lead to political interference in the admissions process.

Mr Clarke told MPs in the Commons the Access Regulator would not set targets for the number of poorer students universities had to attract.

Universities would be expected to set their own targets, he said.

"What I envisage is that the access regulator would require each university to have in place a process, including the setting of its own targets for itself," he said

"I don't myself think, although this will be a matter for consultation, that a central individual organisation saying that X or Y or Z is a specific target for a specific university is the right way to go.

"It is absolutely right for universities to have their own target-setting regimes which look for improvement and for our access regulator to make sure that is followed through."

See also:

04 Feb 03 | Education
27 Jan 03 | Higher education
23 Jan 03 | Education
29 Jan 03 | Higher education
22 Jan 03 | HE reaction
22 Jan 03 | HE reaction
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