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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 16 May, 2001, 18:25 GMT 19:25 UK
Promise to widen university access
AUT delegates holding up banners
Delegates hoped to make a point about student debt
By Angela Harrison at the AUT conference in Scarborough

More students from all walks of life should be entering university, the Minister for Higher Education, Tessa Blackstone, told delegates at a conference of university teachers.


We need to build on existing schemes which encourage racial diversity in universities

Tessa Blackstone
Baroness Blackstone told academics at the annual conference of the Association of University Teachers (AUT) in Scarborough, that the government was determined to continue to expand education.

She reaffirmed the government's commitment to opening access to higher education to 50% of young people and said more needed to be done to encourage students from poorer backgrounds and from ethnic minorities to come forward.

"It's not about introducing quotas or lowering standards," she said.

"Students from low-income families should compete with everyone else, but no one should be discouraged from applying.

Racial diversity

"We need to build on existing schemes which encourage racial diversity in universities," she said.

Tessa Blackstone
Tessa Blackstone: Targeting students from all walks of life
In a wide-ranging speech, Tessa Blackstone set out the government's main priorities for higher education: widening participation, supporting new research, improving the quality of learning and teaching and the exploitation of links between business and universities.

She said universities and business were already benefiting from ties between them but that more progress could be made.

"You play a vital role in bringing academic expertise to the economy. We want to build on this," she told delegates.

Warm welcome

Speaking at the opening of the annual conference, the former academic and head of Birkbeck College, received a relatively warm welcome.


This union is committed to the greatest possible extension of access

David Triesman, AUT
She echoed the government's general theme on education - that it has started to make changes but still has a way to go.

She praised the higher education sector, saying: "I believe you are doing an invaluable job in delivering this challenging agenda.

"We are trying to reverse the declining funding of the two decades which preceded this government," Baroness Blackstone said.

Silent protest

The only protest from the delegates was a silent one. About half a dozen people held up banners calling for "Grants, not tuition fees" throughout the speech.

But the minister refused to be drawn on the issue, commenting: "I have seen your banners but have spoken about the matter many times."

David Triesman
David Triesman welcomed wider access
Afterwards, the General Secretary of the AUT, David Triesman, said the union fully supported the ambition to widen access to university.

"This union is committed to the greatest possible extension of access. We especially need to improve access from minority groups," he said.

Mr Triesman emphasised that more money should be put into higher education - and that the money should not be spent on red tape - a nod to the some of the themes which will emerge during the conference, which ends on 20 May.

Later this week, the conference will be addressed by Evan Harris of the Liberal Democrats. The Conservatives declined an invitation to speak.

See also:

24 Jan 01 | UK Education
16 Nov 00 | UK Education
23 Feb 01 | UK Education
26 Jan 01 | UK Education
28 Jun 00 | UK Education
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