Letter: striving to attract state school pupils
30 September 2005
Sir: It is with a sense of injustice that I note UCL's position among those universities once again under the spotlight for failing to attract more state school pupils (22 September), given that we continue to invest a great deal of time and money into our widening participation activities.
We do not do this with a view to ticking the right boxes, but because, as the first university to have admitted students from any race, class or religion, we believe it is both in line with our historic mission and the right thing to do.
I have two particular misgivings about the figures published by HESA. First, the benchmark that universities are measured against is, I believe, flawed.
Whereas previously the potential pool for universities such as ours included only those who met our entrance criteria (generally three good A-levels), the goalposts have now been shifted.
The new method for calculating the benchmark is based on the whole Ucas tariff, which means that according to this calculation top universities should consider eligible any pupil who secures a set number of points, regardless of whether these were achieved through the vocational or academic route.
A university like UCL inevitably loses out as a consequence of this method of calculation.
Second, we cannot ignore the fact that, with the best will in the world, many of the courses that we teach face real difficulties in raising state sector participation.
To use just one example; we were the first university to offer degrees in modern European languages, and continue to pioneer 'smaller' languages such as Icelandic and Dutch.
A government strategy that makes languages optional at the age of 14 will hardly assist a university committed to its language programme to take an increasing number of students from schools and areas that would improve our benchmarks.
Professor Michael Worton, 'The Independent'