18 means access to new paths

At 18, teenagers are old enough to vote, serve on a jury, buy alcohol, place a bet and marry without parental consent. By that age, they have already had two years in which they can consent to sex, take up smoking or join the armed services.

In education, too, 16-year-olds are considered mature enough to make choices, between dropping out of school, carrying on in full-time study or training in the workplace, perhaps as an apprentice.

These decisions are theirs to take because the Government believes they should be allowed to make judgments in their own best interests. Indeed, it is a tribute to the Government's approach to post-16 education that the opportunities are so varied.

Teenagers have come to enjoy these options in life because society has deemed them capable of making such decisions. It accepts that they are older and wiser than when they were in compulsory education.

This being the case, it is surely reasonable to think that many are mature enough to study alongside adults on a university access course and should be allowed to do so. As we report on page 3, the Quality Assurance Authority has made its position clear on this. It considers that the 19-plus age restriction on access courses is in breach of the law.

Colleges will have the burden of trying to make sure that less mature under-19s are encouraged to stick to traditional routes of study instead of access courses, rather than simply barring them because of their age. This may be a challenge but one which college managers - with their gift for performing miracles - are more than capable of meeting.

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