Our leaders have been keen to assert the importance of holding a line on tariff to ensure that outcomes improve, leading to higher league table position and a consequential positive impact on the reputation of Bradford. This was (we are told) the pathway to the sunny uplands where recruitment is both plentiful and high calibre.
More recently of course, those sunny uplands have been re-characterised as a place where calibre is high but not exactly plentiful (at least in the home market), but where over yonder hill lies the “Shangri-La” of yet to be exploited riches in foreign parts.
Those who attended the Town Hall meeting presented by the VC recently may however have detected yet another nuance of strategy. The VC made it clear that “high tariff” was only a relative term and that we were not hoping to compete with the highest tariff institutions (like MIT perhaps?).
There was also a suggestion that where appropriate, and to reflect the nature of the local education landscape, tariff might be reduced to encourage entry from our more local community. This is of course to be welcomed, but it seems is merely echoing recent calls from government for a flexible approach that recognises the challenges faced by those from disadvantaged backgrounds. It is a “good idea” – but not necessarily one formulated on D floor.
It is sad to reflect on the fact that for many years Bradford was at the vanguard of widening participation. Bradford can be proud of its record of taking students with low achievement and helping them reach their fullest potential. That record was hard won and required a commitment to supporting students through their learning that StAAR and the present cutting exercise makes it impossible to make. It is interesting to note that despite operating on a raised tariff, attrition has increased to almost 1 in 5, suggesting that those higher calibre students are still deserving of a level of support that we are now failing to deliver.
Bradford is the youngest city in Europe and bucking the trend for demographic dip in 18 yr olds. As we cast our recruitment net far and wide we appear unprepared to dip our line just over the edge where the waters are teeming, but then without those necessary support structures perhaps that particular door is already firmly and permanently shut!