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University challenge

Universities are struggling to cope with the expansion of higher education. Should students pay more for the benefits? Can you have excellence in a mass system? Does Britain really need world-class universities?

By Alison Wolf   January 2003

ALISON WOLF In the past 20 years, Britain has stumbled into a system of mass higher education. It is enrolling larger percentages of young people than most other comparable countries without having thought clearly about how the new system should be structured or what its purpose is. The economic advantages are disputed and with an overwhelmingly middle-class student body the social mobility effects are, at best, unclear. Moreover, on the one hand, a mass system is said to be incompatible with having world-class universities and, on the other hand, it also seems to be an obstacle to developing the vocational…

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