CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

BIS – UNIVERSITY ADMISSION – 8 March 2011

Dr Julian Lewis: As my hon. Friend [James Clappison] may know, I voted against the trebling of tuition fees. I did that as someone who has been to one of the top universities on a maximum grant. When I applied to that university, I was looking not for privileged treatment in the admission exam, but for fair treatment, and for the ability to afford the course if I were fortunate enough to be successful. We were told that trebling fees would not put off people from poorer backgrounds from applying. We are now told that in order for people from poorer backgrounds to apply, we must socially engineer the people who get in. The narrative seems to have changed and it now contradicts what was said before. Instead of people getting in on merit, they are getting in on considerations of social position.

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Dr Lewis: My right hon. Friend [The Minister for Universities and Science (Mr David Willetts)] is, as always, extremely kind. I say to him that as someone who was in that position – someone who came from a poor household – I was prepared to be judged on the marks that I actually got, even though people in competition with me went through, shall we say, more advantaged educational processes, because once we start monkeying around with the grades and saying that the person with the higher marks should not get the place, we are in very dangerous and subjective territory indeed.

[The Minister for Universities and Science (Mr David Willetts): I hope to show my hon. Friend that it is not subjective, but absolutely it has to be about merit. I am not aware of any major higher education system in the world that says that the sole criterion for getting in is the exam marks that a person has already achieved. I would be interested to know whether my hon. Friend even believes that our own universities in the past have ever solely used exam marks already achieved, rather than considering merit by including some assessment of potential.]