Top universities should be open to vocational qualifications to boost diversity

Leading universities should be more open to vocational qualifications and degrees if they want to improve diversity in higher education. Students should also be offered work experience and careers guidance, according to Conservative MP Robert Halfon.

His comments come after Tim Bradshaw, head of the Russell Group, which represents the most selective UK universities, called on the government to bring back maintenance grants for the poorest students to help widen access to university.

Mr Halfon however, said that maintenance grants is not a “magic panacea” to solve the problem of lack of diversity in universities. Instead, he said that “there needs to be a lot more acceptance of vocational qualifications from the Russell Group which includes Oxford and Cambridge. He also added that introducing degree apprenticeships at all universities would be “transformative”, saying that disadvantaged students would be able to earn while they learn.

However, a spokesperson for the Russell Group said that “encouraging more disadvantaged students into higher education is a complex challenge with no single solution”. He also added that a number of the Russell Group universities are already involved in the development and delivery of degree apprenticeships which are “particularly targeted to increase participation from under-represented groups including students from less advantaged backgrounds”.

This is certainly a good initiative on many fronts. It not only offers all students regardless of background, a chance to acquire a degree, but it also allows students of different backgrounds to socialise with one another and broaden their own perspectives. Having said that, I think that this initiative has to proceed with careful consideration and caution since it the issue has sensitive racial and class overtones – it is a complex issue that no single solution can iron out.

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