Last night King’s College London’s student led Think Tank held a debate about whether the goal of having 50 percent of school leavers, as set in the Blair years, should be still the goal. To lead the debate the Think Tank had invited the Principal of King’s College London, Sir Richard Trainer. He spoke in a personal capacity. Alongside him was Rachel Wenstone, NUS Vice President.
It was agreed that there has been rapid expansion over the past fifty years of the percentage of the British population which are going to university. In the 1960s it was around 5 percent and is now just shy of 50 percent. Both speakers argued strongly that the 50 percent target was reasonable and actually could be argued is too low. Sir Richard noted that in the US around 70% of school leavers go on to study in higher education, albeit their drop-out rates are higher. Wenstone cited research which concluded that Britain actually needs more graduates in the workforce, not less in the coming years.
Interestingly a recurring theme of the night was how to make universities feel more accessible. One way King’s is doing this is through summer camps. Other universities are making efforts to share their facilities so that the local community can come to use them. The implication being that local children will grow up knowing the university so it will feel less alien and out of reach. Efforts to increase social diversity of British students were generally viewed to be going well but there was a lot more to do. Sir Richard, however, made the superb observation though that cracking the social diversity amongst the international students coming to the UK to study was a far harder nut to crack.