The universities minister is under fire after telling students to lower their sights and apply to “less competitive” universities next year. David Willetts was attacked by the University and College Union (UCU), which represents academic and teaching staff.
“I am astounded that the government’s insulting response to the university crisis is simply to advise some people to temper their ambition,” said the UCU General Secretary, Sally Hunt.
The UCU added that around 200,000 students are set to miss out on a university place this year. They pointed out that if some students “aim lower”, then all that would do is lower the chance of a different group of students securing a place - it would not reduce the number of people missing out overall.
“After years of being inspired to aim higher the coalition government is actually telling students to aim lower,” said Hunt.
She added, ““Education has the power to change people’s lives and anybody who purports to be serious about increasing social mobility has to recognise that. Nick Clegg surely cannot be happy with his colleague’s comments.”
The UCU insists that the “real answer” to the economic crisis involves investment in more university places. They believe that businesses, which benefit from recruiting graduates, should pay more tax to help finance this.
“Too many bright teenagers will be left with no educational place this summer,” said Hunt, “We risk consigning a whole generation to the scrapheap of inactivity”.
Meanwhile, Brendan Barber, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), said that education cuts at a time of high youth unemployment would help to keep Britain as “one of the world's most unequal societies”.
This week's A Level results were the first since the introduction of the new A* grade and provided further evidence of the gap between private and state education. Fee-paying schools provided only 14 per cent of A Level entries, but achieved 30 per cent of the A* grades.