After recently appointing former rally driver Lord Drayson to the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS), John Denham should know a thing or two about cars – like the fact that they don’t work very well with the accelerator and the brake both pressed to the floor. But his approach to increasing university participation is exactly that.
In 1999, the Government promised to get 50 per cent of young people to university by 2010. Yet the figure remains below 40 per cent, and has barely risen in eight years. In fact, at the current rate it would take the Government until 2124 to meet its target.
We support the aspiration of increased participation but at the moment it plainly isn’t happening. There is obviously a problem. But after the DIUS’s £200m funding ‘miscalculation’ resulted in cuts to the amount of grant students will receive next year (the Government still hasn’t said by how much), we now have a situation where ministers are actively hindering expansion.
All universities have just received a letter from the Higher Education Funding Council for England asking them to ‘review their planned recruitment for 2009/10’ and warning there could be no extra places in 2010/11.
It is absurd to have a target for 50 per cent participation and then specifically to prohibit universities from meeting it. It is like trying to drive a car with both the accelerator and brake pressed to the floor and you don’t have to be Lord Drayson to understand why that approach from John Denham is unlikely to succeed.