1 NOVEMBER 1963, Page 13

SIR,—Can we now consider facts behind the words of Mr.

Peterson and others:

1. The term 'university graduate' covers a very wide range of ability in Britain, and a much wider one in the US and the USSR. If we called Advanced Level GCE and Higher National Certificates 'de- grees,' we would parallel their figures.

2. Fifteen per cent of British students drawing public money to go to universities fail to achieve the lowest form of degree. For these, and more, we may depreciate the value of the word 'graduate,' or invent a new title or new courses, but this won't change their real value—on present terminology they will still be 'failed BAs.'

3. Full-time places at technical colleges remain unfilled, except by admitting students who come from overseas for the purpose-50 per cent in many cases, and 90 per cent in one or two. That is, the 15 per cent 'failed BAs' and those immediately beyond them want, not a degree course, but something else, more expensive and which a technical college can't give, from the public purse. Would it he social status?

Following Parkinson's Law, educationists will almost always argue for expanded education; the Robbins Committee consisted almost entirely of educationists. Teenagers, only human, will seek as much as possible for nothing. But may we now revert to the national problem, and suggest that the answer lies not in expanding education at all, but in making proper use of the talent we have got.

Vocational selection and guidance are not avail- able at the right points. They are offered effectively, but in doubtful quality, by the Ministry of Labour and University Appointments Boards only to people who have already completed their full-time educa- tion. In practice the latter, when prolonged, tends already to have limited the field of choice consider- ably.

Probably no student, even of relatively low ability, is kept from advanced study by poverty; but a proportion of top-class talent is squeezed out by the inequities of the 'parental contribution,' which is not condemned by the Robbins Committee. Some of the people concerned may achieve their proper level by other channels.

A few firms have personnel departments really adequate to ensure development of competent people; most graduates and others fall into organisations which don't; Local Education Authorities being one of the worst examples of under-employment and misuse of quality in this respect. In most cases, promotion to jobs worth, say, over £2,000 a year, is mainly a matter of chance, being in the right place at the right time, and getting noticed. A fair proportion of people so promoted are competent, but there are twenty times as many left under-employed. This is the real cause of 'shortage.'

The USSR has more comprehensive, if bureau- cratic, arrangements for keeping track of developing ability. In the US there is greater fluidity for talent to move about in order to show itself, for individuals to strike out on their own. Britain tends to stultify talent by monopolies, monoliths, and an array of licences and controls,- not to mention progressive taxation. It is not surprising that so many young people register for jobs outside Britain; what is more surprising is the number that is sufficiently optimistic to remain.