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Public schools and selective universities: elite, autonomous and residential educational institutions?

  • 17 April 2014
  • By Nick Hillman

There are few issues in higher education as lively as widening access and there is a vast literature on it. BIS recently published Hefce and Offa’s National Strategy on Access and Student Success – on which Hepi had an exclusive blog by Les Ebdon, the Director for Fair Access.

The Higher Education Review, a peer-reviewed journal, has just published a paper of mine, entitled ‘The parallels between admissions to independent boarding schools and admissions to selective universities‘, on what I hope is a new angle on this old – but very important – topic. It compares current policy debates on access to selective universities with past debates on access to independent boarding schools.

If you’re sceptical, consider this: in both cases, the issue at stake is the degree to which the state should sponsor people from less-advantaged backgrounds to attend elite, selective and autonomous educational institutions on a residential basis. That’s why the Education Act of 1944 dealt with the two issues in the same Section.

I argue in the piece that there are few truly novel questions in education but that different parts of the education system can be slow to learn from one another.

I then list ten parallels on the three As: Admissions, Autonomy and Access. Here’s two:

  • Educational institutions willing to open their doors more widely to those from under-represented groups have, eventually, to re-evaluate all they do.
  • Widening opportunity across the board is more important for social mobility than constant tinkering with the zero-sum game of precisely which undergraduates should attend Oxbridge.

I conclude that many of the lessons learnt during the earlier attempts to open up access to independent boarding schools replicate and reinforce those that have been revealed more recently, as attempts to open up selective universities have taken on a new urgency.

Do please take a look at the full piece at the Higher Education Review website – and leave your thoughts on here.

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