There are good reasons for universities to try and find students from poor backgrounds. All things equal, it is reasonable to believe that the performance of a student facing significant disadvantages - thanks to the school they went to, the area where they grew up in or their family background - before they get to university will represent a smaller fraction of their true potential than the performance of a similar student from a more fortunate background. Universities clearly understand this and that is why, for example, Cambridge has increased the share of its student population coming from state schools to 59 per cent this year. The universities can see that as a good thing within their primary objective, hosting top quality teaching and research.
However, when the Government starts to meddle and insist that universities should first be there to increase social mobility things start to go wrong. Students who haven't been prepared for the kind of academic work that will be required at university can be pushed onto courses they can't handle and the result will be a high number of drop-outs that do no one any good.
Today the Times reports that the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University has attacked Government meddling:
"Speaking at the annual conference of Universities UK today, Professor Richard will welcome increased government interest in higher education, but say that such interest can also “encourage meddling”."
One other university vice-chancellor took a very different, and rather dissapointing, position. Let's hope he remembers who pays for those cheques the Government are handing out. Universities do have duties to the public but those duties aren't to carry out the edicts of government:
"Some vice-chancellors do not agree with Professor Richard. One said: “The Government gives me a cheque every year. I have a public duty to do what the Government says.”
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