"A senior academic from Imperial College says that universities have to run catch-up classes for many students with excellent A-levels. And the National Audit Office reports that poor A-level results were the main reason why state school pupils fail to get into a decent university."
It’s worth noting that this isn’t something you can actually pin totally on Labour. When I was a postgrad back in the early 1990’s, the quality of writing ability in students dropped notably over five years – despite them all apparently getting better A level results.
The reason, of course, was the massive expansion of higher education initiated by the Tories and continued under Labour. It was, and is, a classic case of putting the cart before the horse.
You can increase the number of people going on to university in one
of two ways. The first is to increase the quality of secondary
education to a point where more pupils are leaving school with better
qualifications. This is not the path that either the Tories or Labour
The second way is to simple increase the numbers of places in higher
education and let more people in. This, however, means that you’re
letting in students who are less-well prepared for higher education, and who will require remedial work to bring them up to scratch.
In this case, you can very quickly start claiming that under your
remit, the percentage of young people going into higher education has
risen. Of course, this is the path that both Labour and Tories chose.
And, there’s a further effect of this. Institutions are eager to
maintain their own standards, which means keeping – or even increasing
– pass rates. However, they’re letting in more pupils, of lower
quality. So you either have to invest more heavily in teaching
resources, so that lower-quality pupils get the personal attention they
need to succeed… or you fudge it, and just pass more people (the same
percentage, but more in absolute numbers).
With successive governments failing to maintain the amount that
higher education gets per-student, you can guess which path
institutions have followed.
The decision to expand higher education by simply increasing the
number of available places rather than increasing the quality of pupils
was politically expedient, but educationally a disaster – and it’s one
that has caused pretty much every problem with higher education since.
It’s not just Labour’s fault – butthey have taken a Tory policy and run with it, so they bare much responsibility.