Thursday, 19 March 2009

Identifying our academic elite

It is unfashionable to say it, but I believe in elites. We have no problem in having sporting elites and I can see no problem with there being an academic elite. Elites only become a problem if they are not determined on the basis of merit. I believe that the country needs an academic elite.

We have some of the best universities in the world, and this will only remain the case if our brightest and best are able to attend these institutions. Essential to this process is that entrance to top universities should be decided on academic merit; thus the introduction of any mechanism to identify the Nation's brightest and best is to be welcomed. One would expect the top universities all to adopt the A* at A-level as part of their admission process, but this is not the case. The Russell Group Universites are divided with Cambridge, Bristol, Imperial and UCL all deciding to use the new top grade; with 13 universities, including Oxford, Warwick and the London School of Economics disregarding the grade.

The debate, sadly but unsurprisingly, hinges not on whether or not the introduction of the A* will discriminate against applicants from the maintained sector. This is a odd argument: surely at some point we have to recognise that the best are the best regardless of the sector in which they were educated. The data from the pilot studies would appear to be inconclusive at this stage - until the A* is awarded this Summer we will not really know how well the two sectors have performed in relation to each other. Either way, I believe that out acacemic elite should be determined on merit with the best A-level performers should be awarded the places at our top universities regardless of the sector from which they are applying.

Highlights in the press: for an overview:
Universities split over A* Grades [Daily Telegraph]

On State v Independent:
Cambridge insists on new A-level top grade [FT]

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