Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Travesty of statistics

In the most spineless demonstration of inadequate journalism we get the following report from the THES.

"Hefce report questions value of costly initiatives and argues for open entry to university, writes Claire Sanders.

Universities would need to scrap entry requirements to make any real headway in admitting students from a broader range of backgrounds, according to a highly controversial report commissioned by funding chiefs.

The review of widening access raises doubts about whether policies to reduce inequality through education can ever work and will fuel the debate over why the participation of disadvantaged groups in higher education has stalled despite billions of pounds being ploughed into the area.

A review team led by Stephen Gorard of York University argues that in the near future discrimination based on school qualification could seem as "unnatural as discrimination by sex, class, ethnicity, sexuality, disability and age do now". Instead, a "threshold level" could be introduced, equivalent to perhaps two A levels, and places to specific institutions could be allocated according to students' location, disciplinary specialisation or randomly.

Professor Gorard, who led the team from York, the Higher Education Academy and the Institute for Access Studies, said: "As research indicates that qualifications are largely a proxy for class and income, then why use them as a means of rationing higher education? The Open University has operated an open-access scheme for years that has clearly not damaged standards."

This is either ignorance so vast that it clearly indicates the man should not be employed by York or else a deliberately misleading set of statements driven by a political agenda.
Firstly, as any half-assed tyro knows, evidence of association is not evidence for causation. Thus, in particular, we don't know that [high] class and income cause qualifications, indeed the reverse casuation might hold: qualifications make people rich. Secondly, even if the causative link might be asserted, where does this leave the universities? In order to widen access they should accept those with poor education, because they have been discrimated against. Ignoring issues about positive discrimination this can only be true up to a point-or should they accept the innumerate to do mathematics and the illiterate to study English? No, no, `don't be ridiculous' says Professor Gorard-`two A levels rule that out. Look at the OU.'

Well, I do look at the OU. Ignoring the fact that in my subject an OU degree is not taken to be evidence of high ability, the OU (as I'm sure Gorard knows) has a requirement for a Foundation year. And this is intended to make up for the absence of standard academic qualifications at a reasonable level.

Why do I get the feeling that Professor Gorard ( a former teacher of maths and computer science who is quoted as saying on his appointment "I want to help build a centre of excellence for research on the effectiveness and equity of education systems.") views equity as meaning "without regard to proven ability"?

I do not argue that wealth or class (whatever that means these days) doesn't help a child, I'm sure it does. My problem is that opening the Universities to anyone with 2 Es at A level does not redress the balance. This is just another way to hide the rolling avalanche of failure that is (the average of) state education in the UK. It's not the (semi-private) universities' job to fix the inadequacies of the pre-18 education system. If we attempt to do so, then we do so at the cost of miserably failing to train the top 10%. In a few years we've lost our research base and then we're stuffed. No industry, no educated "elite", nothing to give us an economic edge in anything.

This is the route that the USA has partially gone down, and they only stem the rot by recruiting able PhD students from overseas.

1 comment:

Canker said...

Crossposted at