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Great library, for panoramic purposes

We’re picking a new leader of the Conservative party here in the UK. Which also means a new Prime Minister, the incumbent having somehow managed to turn a huge electoral win in late 2019 into being such a liability that his own MPs kicked him out.

Which no one could have foreseen.

Any way, this contest isn’t being done by any old bunch of people (such as the electorate of the country), but the membership of said party. Just because.

This select group isn’t that typical of the population at large, which might explain this weekend’s policy gambits by the leading candidate, Liz Truss.

For those yet to be familiar with her, Truss is someone who pulled herself up from her (self-described) mediocre school to go to Oxford and become the woman she is today. This heart-warming tale has made her want everyone to have the same opportunity for getting the best possible education.

But how to do it?

Maybe by pouring resources into all stages of education, to broaden the base and to increase the capacity of high-quality providers to teach students?

Perhaps by incentivising (or even mandating) educational institutions to provide rigorous training in pedagogy?

Or is it by abolishing tuition fees and re-introducing grants to allow the most disadvantaged to attend university?

No.

It’s by saying that any college student predicted to get top grades in A-levels (the British school-leaving qualifications) should automatically get an interview at Oxford or Cambridge.

At the risk of sounding bitter, just because I didn’t attend either of these institutions, this is a stupid idea.

I’ll leave you to ponder the numerous gaps in this idea, whether it’s the impact of the thousands of extra interviews will have on Oxbridge staff (who might want to do some research or teaching), or the notion that only these two universities are worth this accolade, or the game-playing it will cause for school predictions, or the structural barriers to bright but disadvantaged school pupils from even getting good predictions.

If you’d like a (slightly) more sympathetic view, try this.

Any way, the key takeaway from this is that British higher education policy remains in a rut and the new Prime Minister isn’t about to change this.

Sometimes a policy impasse can be a blessing, if it means government isn’t sticking itself into things too much. But in this case, those things need action now.

A case in point is the looming end to automatic international recognition of British HE qualifications, which is kind of a big deal. But we have yet to see anything happening to avoid this. Possibly because one of the main regulatory bodies – the Office for Students – might be on its way out too.

Lots to ponder, as I head for a summer break. I’d love to say it’ll all be sorted by the time I’m back online in late August, but I think we all know that’s not happening.

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