Azara Blog: Some "think tank" produces another pointless report about universities

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Date published: 2006/12/21

The BBC says:

A growing trend among young people to study close to home may be contributing to a breakdown in the hierarchy of universities, a think tank has said.

The Higher Education Policy Institute describes a "hierarchy of esteem" in which students apply to the most prestigious places their results allow.

But it says this could collapse as students choose to stay closer to home.

It also says more information is now available, allowing students to make more sophisticated choices.

This includes information about job outcomes, facilities, the number of teaching hours and the quality of tuition.

The institute's views are outlined in a memo prepared for the Commons select committee on education and skills ahead of its review of the future sustainability of the higher education sector.

It says there is a widespread and probably accurate perception that degrees from some universities are more valuable in the job market than others.

Although it may be regrettable, students tend to apply to the most prestigious institutions that they think they can get into, it adds.

Institutions then select the most able and employers favour candidates for jobs from those institutions.

This it describes as "a vicious (or virtuous) circle that perpetuates the hierarchy of esteem".

The memo says that while factors may play a part in breaking this pattern, the only way to ensure it is broken would be for the government to control admissions to universities and deny freedom of choice to students.

This could mean admissions based on catchment areas as in other countries.

In America many students choose to study at the local, often state-subsidised, university because it is cheaper. For example, in Massachusetts many students might end up studying at the University of Massachusetts, not because they want to but because that is all they can afford. This does not mean that Harvard and Yale have lost their "esteem", quite the contrary.

Further, basing admissions on catchment areas is silly. Firstly, as happens with schools, rich parents would just move to the areas with the best universities. Secondly, what is the catchment area of Cambridge, for example, going to be? Would any government really destroy Cambridge by insisting that only people from East Anglia could attend it? Even Old Labour is not that stupid (is it?).

Why is this pointless "research" being funded? Sack all educationalists and instead spend the money on education.

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