Monday, March 26, 2007

NuLab - Wesley Mouch Would Be Proud

Ever since Tony Blair's Nu-Lab government came to power, argument has raged as to whether they have deliberately pursued an agenda to stifle entrepreneurship and incentive, or whether their actions were merely those of well-meaning but incompetent people.

One of the most diabolical characters in literature is, Ayn Rand's Wesley Mouch. Mouch was the chief looter and architect of government regulation that ultimately killed the global economy. Even he would have blushed at this latest development in Tony Blair's Nu-Britain.

I challenge anyone to find a more pernicious, more evil, more corrupt, more morally bankrupt development in the ten year failure that is New Labour.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) said recently that it had decided that information on the occupation and ethnicity of applicants’ parents should also be made available to admissions officers. Previously this had been held back until after places were offered. Ucas said that the decision was specifically designed to “support the continuing efforts of universities and colleges to widen participation”. Bill Rammell, the Higher Education Minister, confirmed yesterday that the Government was backing the changes.

When Labour came to power in 1997, Tony Blair declared that he had just three priorities; "education, education, education". I excitedly agreed as i ticked the Labour box on my ballot paper. The egalitarians at the heart of the Nu-Lab project were alarmed that such a large number of University places were awarded to children from private schools. Fair enough. What to do though.

First up, their solution to this undesirable situation was to pump billions into state schools. This has now been declared an abject failure as yesterday the schools regulator, Ofsted, announced that more than half of secondary schools in England are failing to provide children with a good standard of education.

So, rather than take hard choices about the way education is delivered by the State, Labour moved on to Plan B. Make the exams so easy that many more state school children will get good grades and hence gain University entrance. This too has failed as the percentage of places from private schools has actually increased recently, reversing years of gains in social mobility. Between 2002-03 and 2004-05 the proportion of university entrants from private schools rose from 12.8% to 13.3% despite accounting for just 7% of school places. More damningly, the proportion of students from lower social classes fell from 28.4% to 28.2%.

At Britain's top University, Cambridge, the problem is even more acute , as the proportion of successful candidates from the state sector dropped four percentage points to 55.7%.

So, on to the nuclear option of Plan C. If we can't improve the schools, thought the policy-wonks, if we can't sufficiently dumb down the system, then we will have to force the Universities to accept state educated children, no matter how ill-equipped for University life they are.

The immorality and pure evil of this idea is breath-taking. In a stroke it removes all incentive for working class children to better themselves by entering University. What is their incentive if all it means is that their kids will be subsequently discriminated against?

Unsurprisingly, the National Union of Students are in favour of the "positive discrimination of non-traditional students"

But why stop there?

We know, for example, that children do best educationally if both parents live with them. So that’s an unfair advantage over those from broken homes. We know that children who live in houses surrounded by books do better than those who don’t enjoy such benefits. So should we start burning books? Or those children whose parents are not in prison or are not alcoholics or drug addicts or child abusers? Surely their children have an unfair head-start too? And why stop at parents? Why not also discriminate against those applicants whose grandparents went to university?

The Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell said the information on candidates’ backgrounds would ensure that all applications were ‘genuinely dealt with on their merits’, and that it would help universities assess who had the potential to succeed.

What? This is Nu-Lab nonsense-speak fit only for the pages of Alice in Wonderland. If i say loud enough that two plus two equals three, people will start to believe it. Maybe i will too. For the one thing this proposal is designed to do is to ensure candidates are not dealt with on their merits, but on the basis of their parents’ background. Meritocracy out, discrimination in.

Pat Langham, president of the Girls’ Schools Association raised one of the many secondary issues stating that the new questions would encourage applicants to bend the truth.

“If your parents were property developers, applicants could mark them down as a ‘builders’; if they were managing directors you could describe them as ‘clerks’. Who is going to establish the veracity of these forms?”

Exactly. What next? More government power to inspect our past?

Jonathan Shepherd, general secretary of the Independent Schools Council, described the proposals as "nonsense", stating

"Are they going to go back two or three generations or start collecting people’s DNA?”

Oxford University admirably said that it had no intention of using the information, adding that it would hold it back from college admissions officers until after offers had been made and acted upon. Mike Nicholson, director of admissions at Oxford, said:

“We haven’t any evidence to suggest that this type of information has any valid relevance to the decisions we have to make."

Quite. It is now time that Oxford and Cambridge opted out of the system completely rather than face gradual and inevitable decline.

The NuLab project has just taken a sinister, morally bankrupt turn.