Universities using contextual admissions to discriminate against private school pupils is “as abhorrent as discrimination on the basis of race or sex,” a former government special adviser has said.
Iain Mansfield, who was a special adviser to Michelle Donelan when she was universities ministers earlier this year, told a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference that the university system was “pushing” such discrimination which he described as “disturbing”.
“I think we should be clear,” he added. “Discrimination on the basis of class or background or the aspirational decisions that a parent makes for a child is as abhorrent as discrimination on the basis of race or sex.”
Mr Mansfield, who is now head of education at the Policy Exchange think tank, later clarified that he was referring to children who went to private schools or who are categorized as “advantaged” by universities because of the postcode where they live.
He was speaking at an event hosted by the Higher Education Policy Institute ahead of the launch of a consultation on new requirements for university “access and participation” plans, which ask universities to explain measures they use to give more offers to poorer pupils.
Candidates require lower grades
Universities and Colleges Admissions Service figures released last month showed 18-year-olds from the wealthiest backgrounds were the only group to see a decline in numbers securing places this year. The University of Sussex said on Monday that almost one in five of the offers it makes are “contextual”, which means candidates require lower grades to win a place because they have faced “challenges that may have impacted their education”.
Universities also faced criticism at the party conference from Andrea Jenkyns, the new skills minister. She said the higher education system would rather young people get a degree in “Harry Potter studies” than apprenticeships in construction.
Speaking at a fringe event she said that in some cases young people were not getting skills that were “fit for the future” at universities.
“They are being fed a diet of critical race theory, anti-British history and sociological Marxism, which is why this Government is determined to provide an alternative,” she said.
Vivienne Stern, chief executive of Universities UK, said: “Our universities are respected the world for producing outstanding graduates, including in many areas requiring advanced technical skills. They are essential to economic growth, to our public services, and to getting the country back on its feet again. Ministers should stop talking down a sector the UK can be genuinely proud of.”