Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Panic over, guys - apparently we've already got our perfect meritocracy

There's an extraordinarily provocative piece in the Telegraph from Peter Saunders, claiming that the fact that the overwhelming majority of places at the top universities go to private school pupils is exactly as it should be, because "intelligence is unequally distributed across the social classes". He innocently protests that discrimination based on anything other than intelligence is barely conceivable -

"Left to themselves, universities will admit the brightest students from across the social spectrum without being told. It’s what most academics went into the job to do."

Oh, really? So why do Oxford and Cambridge have an interview process, rather than relying solely on objective evidence of academic performance? I'd suggest it's to test whether a candidate is sufficiently "articulate" and "confident", which regardless of past achievement (much less raw intelligence) they're far less likely to be if they attended a state school, and especially if they come from a working class background. The fact that the academics concerned are probably genuinely oblivious to the nature of this bias really isn't a lot of comfort.

Saunders also relates an anecdote about a girl from an inner-city comprehensive who was horrified to learn of a scheme to reserve university places for people like her -

“I’m not coming to a place like this,” she said, “where you think I need special treatment different from everyone else.”

That's a fine ideal in theory, but if she and Saunders have her way, she may well find the words "I'm not coming to a place like this" were rather prescient - just not in the way she intended.


  1. Sometimes you wonder what century some of the columnists of the right wing press live in.

    I've come to the conclusion that it may be the 19th.

    But they receive succour from the government. The FoI Act will no longer, in any form, apply to the Queen, Prince Charles and Prince William, even if it is adjudged to be in the public interest that it does.

    The Tories appear to be capable of time travel. We're moving backwards at a frightening speed.

  2. And even more depressingly, that's happening with the Lib Dems' acquiescence.