Too much too young

Yasmin is 15 years old and goes to a comprehensive school. Her dream, however, is to go to the private school up the road. She worries that attending a state school is having a detrimental effect on her chances for success in later life.

Yasmin might have a point.

According to The Sutton Trust, the number of students from fee-paying schools admitted to the top 10 universities increased over a four year period and forty-two per cent of the UK's top scientists and scholars were privately educated.

Furthermore, rather than reducing disadvantage and promoting social mobility, it seems the current university system remains inaccessible to young people from less privileged backgrounds.

Launching the pithily titled Higher ambitions - the future of universities in a knowledge economy this week, Lord Mandelson argued that the education system needs to change to ensure the removal of financial and class-based barriers to academic success.

As one might expect, he faces opposition from educational professionals who claim he's intent on commercialising education and turning students into consumers - with an increased focus on choice and value for money.

In an attempt to make education more relevant, have we lost sight of the real value of education? Has the financial potential of higher education taken precedence over the more altruistic need to inspire, challenge and expand the minds of young people? Do we really want a generation of teenagers who can plug seamlessly into the economy, or do we also want young people who embody a rich diversity of knowledge - artistic, philosophical and spiritual?

By incorporating education into the market, we're almost certainly going to make more money, but are we going to help Yasmin by giving her the best possible education?