As Bagehot showed, fair university admissions and two decades of school reforms are pointing Britain in a meritocratic direction, but we have some way to go.

By the time disadvantaged students apply to university, it is often too late. This is crucial in mathematics, where a proven high capability is essential for science, technology and engineering degrees.

Universities are taking matters into their own hands. Cambridge, Imperial, King's, Durham and Exeter are among the universities founding mathematics schools, each educating hundreds of disadvantaged sixth-reformers.

But, as with Oxford's foundation year, scalability is limited. We can lean harder on technology.

Massive online courses [MOOCS], like those from Imperial on EdX, provide resources for students  aspiring to the highest A-level mathematics grades. They can see, and build towards, the standards of elite universities.

A happy by-product, consumer surplus, even, is that many outside Britain are taking these free courses, including a low-and middle-income countries.

For students, it raises ambitions. For talent- hungry universities, it's enlightened self-interest.

The World Students Society thanks author 

Professor Alice Gast,


Imperial College London


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