That was a short opinion piece, which I caught up with only in re-scanning yesterday’s Observer. Barbara Ellen (whose name sounds remarkably close to a song on the second Joan Baez album, and now is a page I regularly skip) has this:
It seems that poorer disadvantaged students have been applying to university in “record” numbers – up 1.3 percentage points from last year – which some have hailed as a vindication of the tuition fee increases. What baloney.
It’s good that these students have not been put off by the fees hike, but that’s all credit to them, not the ridiculously unfair system they are forced to navigate. Not only do such candidates remain far outnumbered by their middle-class counterparts, there have been reports about how the university funding system is in absurd disarray.
Why are all these young people applying to university in droves anyway? Of course, many just want to, and good luck to them. However, for others, it could be a case of what else are they supposed to do? Low-paid unskilled work for ever more, or an unpaid internship, which most could not afford to do without strong parental financial support? In such circumstances, university, even with the burden of enormous fees, could look like the best option
Ironically, it’s now middle-class students, with the safety net of long-term financial support from their parents, who can afford to go straight into work, and “wing it”, avoiding university fees altogether if they wish. By contrast, disadvantaged young people are between the proverbial rock and hard place – they can’t really afford to go to university, but they can’t afford not to go either.
It’s easy to imagine some of these young people sitting hard times out in university, almost as a kind of civic sanctuary, hoping that things will have improved by the time they emerge. They are the nervy, watchful “wait and see” academic generation – and putting them in that stressful, insecure position is nothing for this government to crow about.
I quote that in full, because a straight search on the title gets one nowhere.
And also because it bangs home more nails into the coffin of this ConDem government.
In the old days (circa 1980) those of us sitting on Labour-controlled education authorities shamelessly finagled local authority resources as “positive discrimination”. Our opponents condemned this as “social engineering”. The late Michael Gove, now defenestrated from education to keeper of the Black Book on kiddy-fiddling MPs and other low-lifes, has been as much into “social engineering” as anybody. For that is what is involved in:
- the quest for “rigour” (making exams more formal, penalising any menstruating girl by minimising coursework and anything else that couldn’t be validated sitting at a desk for two or three hours straight);
- reinforcing those essential upper- and middle-class cultural values — what we used to think of it as forelock-tugging, by — for one example — specifying that history teaching should inculcate a sense of national identity;
- setting up those heavily-resourced “free schools” in bourgeois enclaves where there was “demand” (the demand being to keep little Hermione well away from the Chavettes);
- all purpose teacher-bashing, not only by slighting rebukes but also by making sure such pay-limited professionals in the public sector could no longer afford to buy into “naice” areas.
Already the skies darken with chickens coming home to roost. Shortly after, as Vince Cable already expects, the Student Loan racket becomes an ever-greater burden on the Exchequer.
So, good luck to those poorer disadvantaged students who make it far enough to work the system to their own benefits.