HE, IQ, etc

Here are a few thoughts on HE, partly in response to Libby T’s recent piece.  I do think that it’s a pity for people to drag themselves through a degree course they don’t want to do if the job they are aiming for doesn’t (or shouldn’t) require one.  I also think there is an assumption that such students are more likely to be found at ‘new’ universities.  But it could be argued that the opposite is the case.  Middle class students (and there are significant social class differences between the sectors) don’t tend to consider other options.  Students at new universities are that bit more likely to have made a positive and independent choice to try for university, perhaps without huge encouragement from school or family.

Many who comment on the desirability of cutting student numbers will have new universities in their sights.  Universities with lower requirements, they would argue, will naturally be taking on less able and less deserving students.  Clearly there is some truth in this – you do get a longer ‘tail’ at less selective institutions.  But you also get straightforwardly brilliant students, quirkily brilliant students, and others who manage to progress from a low starting point to a solid 2.1.  I can think of several cases where students have dramatically upped their level at new universities – whereas some new arrivals at older institutions fail to make significant further progress.  If we limited university intake to Libby T’s ‘select few’ we’d automatically lose many of those who gain most from the experience.  And although middle class, as well as less privileged, students might fall below Libby’s bar, they would have the money (and the time it buys) to find a way round the problem, perhaps through expensive coaching or study abroad.

Although the Coalition has made Oxbridge the target of unfair accusations, some of its policies seem calculated to have most effect on post 92s.  For example, the suggestion that retention rates should be taken into account when deciding what fees universities should charge seems targeted at new universities.   Students whose parents and older siblings went to university, whose friends routinely applied, who don’t have to commute from outside town or work long hours to subsidise their rent, and who know they can turn to family for financial support if things go wrong, are far less likely to drop out.  They are also quite a bit less likely to be studying at a new university.

Finally, on the subject of IQ, I think this comment by Alan Ryan, warden of New College, Oxford, is interesting:

All the evidence suggests that measured IQ is a function of innate endowment and nurture; high-IQ children in the lowest income quintile do less well in IQ tests over time, while low-IQ children in the highest income quintile do better. The most obvious explanation of the class differential in Oxbridge intake has nothing to do with IQ and everything to do with the ability of private schools to get their students three As at A level.

as is this recent news item, which suggests that motivation, as well as raw intelligence, affects IQ scores.

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