It would be easy to attack Lord Mandleson's recent pronouncements on Higher Education by attacking his position as our un-elected overlord and de facto Prime Minister, but ad hominim attacks do not progress the debate.
Instead we should attack the same old tired clap track nonsense about Universities not doing enough for working class students. Time and time again, be it the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for whatever department universities fall under this month, the President of the NUS, or indeed some unhinged Another Union is Possible wing nut, the same old stick is brought out with which to smack universities over the head with. It is depressing that my very first article on Live! was essentially about the same issue: using university bashing as a smoke screen to deflect from more fundamental and systemic issues in our education system.
To look behind the smoke and mirrors of the 'press release politics' we've experienced since 1997 is to see an Orwellian world in which new words define new ideas and realities, and the world in which the rest of us live becomes increasingly disconnected from the one that is described by the politicians. For if all of those annual announcements on how wonderfully well this years crop of A-level or GCSE students had fared were true, then the best universities would have a childlike ease in selecting working class applicants that meet the entry requirements instead of those same students being crowded out by 'evil' children whose parents paid.
If the improvements were genuine then the change would happen, if the change is manufactured and statistical, then the façade falls once the government looses the power to define success.
Fundamentally the problem comes not down to universities failing the working class, the hard truth is that the government has failed both the working class and society as a whole by not using 14 years of education to produce candidates able to get into the 'elite universities'.
Attacking universities means not having to address the failings of government. Attacking 'elite' universities belies the acceptance that the rapid broadening of the HE sector has not built institutions producing respected or indeed employable graduates. And to be honest, furthering the stereotype that elite graduates are both entitled to, and readily receive, high paid dream jobs is particularly spiteful with record graduate unemployment.
If only students had a strong national voice with which to challenge the weak premises that underlay Lord Mandelson?s comments. If only there was a national organisation that represented the 5 million FE students whom the data shows have the worst chance of all groups at getting into a good university, or the two million HE students soon to find themselves in the dole queue. If only.