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Thursday, 21 November, 2002, 11:57 GMT
Clarke attacks unis on access
Student protest
Students warn fear of debt deters poorer students
The education secretary Charles Clarke has attacked universities over the low number of children from poor families going into higher education.

Charles Clarke told a conference of head teachers it was "absolutely ridiculous" that as many as 75-80% of middle class children went to university while only 5-10% children from poorer backgrounds did so.

Speaking about the chief executives of universities, he said:"If I ask myself do I really think they have committed to ensuring people from all kinds of backgrounds have an equal crack at getting into university, I have to say I don' t think so."

It is not the first time government ministers have criticised universities for their admissions policies.

The Laura Spence affair, two years ago, led to charges of elitism against Oxford University from the Chancellor Gordon Brown.

Top-up fees

The government is committed to increasing the number of young people going to university to half of the eligible population by 2010.

But universities say they need more money to be able to fund the expansion in student places that the government wants.

Students and some universities have complained about the government's reported plans to allow universities to charge higher tuition fees, saying such a change would deter poorer students from applying to university.


The real problem lies in the secondary school system which fails too many of our young people

Damian Green, Conservatives
The government is said to be considering the top-up fees option and the possibility of charging a "graduate tax," where students would pay back tuition fees once they began earning.

The higher education minister Margaret Hodge has spoken out in favour of universities which vary their admissions procedures to take into account a student's potential.

She has praised Bristol, where history applicants are chosen not only on their A-level results.

Tutors look at the average A-level results of a school attended by a promising applicant and if they stand out, they will be accepted even if their results are lower than those of people accepted before.

Aspirations

The chief executives of Britain's universities, represented by the group Universities UK, say they are working hard to widen participation.

The group's chief executive Diana Warwick, said:"This commitment is not in doubt.

"They entirely accept their place in the battle to widen participation, but schools, the government and parents have a role to play also.

"Improving the staying-on and attainment rates in schools, raising pupils' aspirations and ensuring that we have a system of student support that does not deter those from poorer backgrounds is also vital, as is adequate funding for the work universities are doing."

The Conservative party has said it is the government which is failing children from poorer families.

Shadow education secretary Damian Green said: "This is a disgracefully unfair attack on universities.

"The real problem lies in the secondary school system which fails too many of our young people, particularly those from deprived backgrounds."


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12 Apr 02 | Education
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18 Nov 02 | Politics
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