James Forsyth

Social mobility — more than a political battle over universities

Social mobility — more than a political battle over universities
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Nick Clegg wants to make social mobility his big theme in office. This is an ambitious target and one unlikely to be motivated by electoral consideration given that visible progress on this front is unlike to be achieved by 2015.

The publication of the former Labour minister Alan Milburn’s report, commissioned by the coalition, into the professions and social mobility takes us to the heart of the debate: when can most be done to aid social mobility. Personally, I think the emphasis should be on education reform and family policy. Others, argue that more can — and should — be done later.

Politically, as the row over the appointment of Les Ebdon showed, the row is going to be about whether you can expect universities to try and rectify the failings of the school system. This is a debate that divides the coalition at the moment; the Lib Dems and the Tory universities minister David Willetts are on one side, and Michael Gove and most Tory MPs on the other. As this is where the political heat is, attention will indubitably focus on this aspect of the debate. But, as Neil O’Brien points out, it is actually a relatively small part of the debate.