University placement? Don’t we have people for that?

Frank Furedi, who I have always considered to be the sensible wing of the Revolutionary Communist Party, has attacked the decision by universities to allow students seeking placement to appoint proxies (usually parents):

Frank Furedi, social commentator and professor of sociology at the University of Kent, says that controlling parents are “destroying the distinction between school and higher education”.

“All universities now have to take the parent factor into account. On university open days you can see more parents attending than children,” says Professor Furedi.

He says there have been cases of parents who arrive expecting to attend their children’s university interviews.

Professor Furedi says that he tells parents that they have to leave, but there are other academics who “accept that this will be a family discussion”.

“There is a powerful sense of infantilism, where parents can’t let go.”

Frankly, when it comes to “destroying the distinction between school and higher education,” I think the boat left decades ago. Ever since the Thatcher government’s educational reforms which abolished Polytechnics and curtailed government funded apprenticeships due to a combination of parents wanting Little Johnny to go to university and the CBI not having a clue about what it really wants, we have been headed down this road. If you treat university as a system of prestige, you are inevitably going to end up with parental interference.

What I’m more interested in is what happens next. If we can now appoint agents, how long will it be before people start paying people to act as agents? We find this for everything else in life, from buying property through to getting jobs. And won’t it be easier for the universities to deal with agencies which have tens of thousands of people on their books, rather than sole traders? How long will it be before we start seeing this?

Of course, what that means is that we will see yet another barrier between talented people from poor backgrounds and decent university places. Mummy and daddy might be able to afford your university agent if you live in a leafy Kensington suburb, but they are less likely to have the readies necessary if you live on a crummy housing estate.

We should be more worried about this than direct parental interference. The solution is a more level playing field in which university applications take place after people already know their A-level (and/or equivalents).


  1. Actually, Ferudi is one of those former marxists that seems to have swung radically to the right (along with Nick Cohen and half the op ed writers for the Times).

    That being said, I’ve laughed at his suggestion that “On university open days you can see more parents attending than children.” Er… yes. That would be mum and dad!

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