BLOG: Challenge 2012 Higher Education Student Debate
18 September 2012
Mirela Ivanova, HEAPS graduate and former Teach First intern, shares her thoughts on widening access ahead of the Higher Education Student Debate at Challenge 2012 this weekend.
I have just been given the privilege to speak at a Challenge 2012 panel event. The Higher Education Student Debate (trust me, it’s a lot more fun than it sounds) will be going on in the Purcell Room from 15:45 and will take form in a discussion/debate on access to university. It is chaired by the Brilliant Club and will feature a variety of delegates from Oxford Senior Tutor, Dr. Fiona Spensley, to a Teach First Higher Education Access Programme for Schools (HEAPS) graduate like myself.
The purpose of the panel, I suppose, is to consider the barriers for high achieving state school students to entering the top 20 UK universities. On the whole, however, this will be a public debate - the idea is to involve the audience and really think about what can be done to close the large (and not getting any smaller) gap between state and privately educated students attending a top 20 university. This is quite personal for me, having just had an induction at Wadham, the Oxford College where I will begin my History course later this month. Even though Wadham is prided, or rather prides itself, on its diverse and liberal nature, I was surprised to see that the majority of people on my course were still privately educated. And although about half the others came from good or excellent grammar schools across the UK, only one other student came from a regular state school or Sixth Form college.
This attainment difference is not anything to do with ability. I don't think any one child in a private school has a smaller or bigger potential than another in a State school. So what is the key element, then, that stifles state school children from going to the top universities?
Hopefully, the discussion will be a useful tool to divide the issues that seem most central to the current position from all the fluff and stuff the media promotes. There will also be some consideration of charities that already are doing something about it - as HEAPS and the Brilliant Club - but the focus will largely be on the future and how to make things better. Is reform necessary? Is the reform proposed by Michael Gove going to help or damage this even further? Should universities offer lower grades to students from challenging schools? Should private schools support academies with funding and connections? Should we even worry about the fact the best schools in England are private? Have your say at the Higher Education Student Debate!