Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Phil Willis attacks critics of Labour university policy

Imagine an inquiry into an aspect of government policy. Would you have any confidence in that inquiry if its chairman called on critics of the policy to "put up or shut up" and challenged them "to come out from the woodwork"?

You would have very little confidence at all. You would probably conclude that the chairman was a Labour hack. You might even worry about what was going on in the darker recesses of his mind. Rats and cockroaches live in the woodwork, don't they?

Except that the person speaking in Phil Willis, Lib Dem MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough and the chairman of the Commons innovation, universities, science and skills select committee.

Yet the Times Higher Education Supplement, which reports Willis's remarks, recently ran a survey on the subject and found:
Of the 500 readers who took part in the survey, nine out of ten participants said resourcing constraints were having an adverse effect on academic standards, and seven out of ten said the rise in the number of top degree classifications did not indicate an improvement in standards.
So it is hard to see why Willis is being so bullish in favour of government policy. No doubt some people do oppose wider access to university education for unworthy reasons, but there is enough evidence - if only anecdotal - to justify a fair-minded inquiry. Surely the role of a select committee chairman is to be impartial and to put those giving evidence at their ease?

But then Willis has always had a side to his politics that is more Labour than many Labour supporters. His was the dominant Lib Dem voice on education for several years after 1997, and because of that we ended up opposing all parental choice in secondary school admissions. I doubt that any Liberal Democrat candidate anywhere campaigned on that policy.

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