A degree is not the answer to solving social mobility

A degree is not the answer to solving social mobility

Last week, the government’s chosen new social mobility chief, Dame Martina Milburn, made a pronouncement I totally concur with – we do not need a nation of Oxford degrees.

For many years I have said that successive governments have put far too much emphasis on the academic route of life.

It is a fact that only a relatively small percentage of us will be very academic – and certainly not the 50% that Tony Blair said should go to university some 20 years ago.

The truth is nowhere near 50% should go to university. The academic bell curve on IQ clearly shows that around 25%, maybe 30% at a push, should go to university.

Yes, it is very important that we harness the skills of the academic elite but we must place as much importance and emphasis on other skills.

To make a country run successfully you need the academic, the creative, the sporting and the technical to all aim to reach the highest of their abilities.

That’s why we need to create pathways at 14 as they do in Germany for both an academic and vocational route – with no stigma attached to either pathway.

For very clever young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, a grammar school style system could really benefit them. That is why I would like to see new grammar schools built in deprived areas and for testing to happen at 13 as well as 11.

Equally, specialist education, as they have in Germany, will boost those with other equally important skills and link them to industries for future careers.

The answer is certainly not to ‘dumb down’ to the lowest common denominator in a bid to try and shoehorn people into academia.

Instead, the answer is to harness the talents that lie within all of us.

Going down the academic route to create better social mobility can lead to grade erosion.

Universities are quite rightly concerned that the call to lower entry grades for poorer students will see their standards slip.

Standards are standards and should not be organised to suit people’s needs. Whoever cannot reach them should be doing something more suited to their talents.

Academic ability is one kind of intelligence – writing essays and analysing information is not for everybody.

Generating the income of the country, entertaining people creatively and inventing tomorrow’s future are other kinds of intelligence and should be equally as valued.

Look at Germany. It only sends 20% of its young people to university and it has one of the most competitive economies in the world. What’s more, it can afford to pay their fees.