Monday, 23 August 2010

Who will stand for meritocracy?

The front page of The Telegraph today carried this story
David Willetts said leading universities should admit bright teenagers from poor homes with lower A-level results than their middle-class peers in an attempt to boost social mobility.

As students across Britain continue to battle for remaining university places, Mr Willetts said admissions tutors in subjects such as law and medicine should increasingly judge candidates on their “potential”.
Wow. At first I assumed Willets must have been a Lib Dem, but Wikipedia swears he's a Conservative. What ever happened to meritocracy? Does anyone speak for it anymore?

If "bright teenagers from poor homes" aren't getting good enough A-level results to gain entry into "leading universities", the obvious solution is to focus on improving their A-level results. To instead suggest that universities should lower their standards, and select based on class rather than merit, is the sort of lunacy I'd hoped had died with New Labour.

In another article for The Telegraph, Jeff Randall highlighted the hypocrisy of the five Oxbridge graduates competing for the Labour leadership [1]:
In a risible piece for The Financial Times, employment lawyer Chuka Umunna, who has since become Labour MP for Streatham, demanded that City businesses trawl through third-division universities in order to engage with lower socio-economic classes: "City employers, who tend to focus on recruiting from the Russell Group of top universities, fail to reach these candidates. City recruiters… must widen the pool of universities."

Neat, eh? While banks, law firms and accountants are expected by Labour to sign up students from institutions that are not much more than overblown technical colleges (with scandalously high drop-out rates), the party of the people remains wedded to traditional centres of academic excellence.

The hypocrisy doesn't stop there. Diane Abbott, a fan of comprehensive education for the masses, sent her son to the City of London School, where fees for day boys are more than £10,000 a year. Challenged on this, she replied: "West Indian mums will go to the wall for their children."

Oh, now we get it. When Mr Cameron senior, a stockbroker, sent David to Eton, that was "buying privilege". But when a Cambridge-educated black woman and Labour MP, Miss Abbott, behaves in a similar manner, that's doing the right thing for her offspring. Totally different, darling.
I expect this sort of thing from Labour. I've never held the Conservatives in especially high regard, but I'm still shocked to see Willetts recite such socialist tripe. Party X is loathsome indeed.

[1] Dianne Abbot, Newnham College, Cambridge; Ed Balls, Keble College, Oxford; Andy Burnham, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge; David Miliband, Corpus Christi College, Oxford [2]; Ed Miliband, also Corpus Christi College, Oxford.

[2] David is an interesting case, as it seems that despite getting "three Bs and a D" he "won admission to the University of Oxford with the assistance of an Inner London Education Authority scheme intended to enable comprehensive school pupils to attend the university". I guess he was just lucky; his parents' academic connections surely had nothing to do with it. According to a Times article I found, "The two brothers grew up together in North London, weaned amid the left-wing intellectuals who surrounded their parents, the Marxist historian Ralph Miliband and the academic Marion Kozak ... At Oxford there was a certain aura about David, because people knew who his parents were"

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