Idea of ‘excellence for all is nonsense’, says former Harrow head

Not all children should be encouraged to attend university because the idea of “excellence for all is nonsense”, the former head of Harrow has said. This is from the Telegraph

Barnaby Lenon, who is still Chairman of the Independent Schools Council, has argued that getting a degree is a privilege not a right, and many students would be better off going straight into the workplace as their degrees are not worth their value.

Mr Lenon, who has taught at Eton and was head of the £33,000 a year Harrow School for 12 years before retiring in 2011, said: “200,000 students getting degrees in business would be better off getting a job in a business.”

He also expressed disapproval of degrees such as communications and marketing.

The former head told the Oxford Student Union debate that people believe that a university education is a right because of the “everyone must now win prizes” mentality which emerged after the Second World War.

Warning against the concept of “equality of outcome”, the idea of equalising where people end up rather than where or how they begin, he added: “Selection by ability has become taboo, but the idea of excellence for all is nonsense.”

Tim Waterstone, founder of the book shop chain, agreed with him, stating: “No one has the right to be a scholar. You do have the right not to be discriminated against, but there is no guarantee to go to university.”

The debate comes as there are growing calls for university education to be classed as a human right, including from students groups and author Bonnie Greer, the new Vice-Chancellor of Kingston University.

They pair argued against David Willetts, the Universities Minister, and Geraldine Van Bueren, professor of International Human Rights Law at Queen Mary, University of London, who supported the proposition that “university education is a right not a privilege”.

Mr Willetts said that the “biggest lies” of the debate were that something which is taxpayer funded “should be a right for a minority” and that access to universities needs to be restricted to fewer numbers, the Oxford Student reported.

Mr Willetts said that it was unfair that the Robbins’ principle, which was adopted in the 1960s and states that places should be available to all who had the ability to fill them, left taxpayers with the bill…

More at:  Idea of ‘excellence for all is nonsense’, says former Harrow head

So, should university education be a right or a priviledge? Are you with Barnaby Lennon or David Willetts? Please let us know in the comments or on twitter… 

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  1. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove All options should be open to all students, but one size does not fit all in education, something DfE struggle with

  2. MinoHedgehog

    SchoolsImprove maybe, but ‘opportunities for all’ is not. Uni is not for everyone, but everyone should have the best education possible

  3. Sherbs1

    Rustylink1 Says the former Head of Harrow. Funny how academics only see excellence in academic terms. He totally misses the point

  4. Rustylink1

    Sherbs1 Academics tend to distort the function of education to bolster their their own self-image rather than serving their pupil’s needs

  5. Sherbs1

    Rustylink1 There is certainly an element of truth in that, Academic snobbery is an anathema to me. I prefer to value all human capacities

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