Education Stays Classy

Chancellor George Osborne claims that he will raise the standards of universities. The question is only: for whom? His reforms could drastically change the landscape of higher education. Major alterations include the replacement of student maintenance grants with loans for new students as of 2016-17, freezing the loan repayment threshold for five years and allowing private colleges called “challenger institutions”. Most notorious was the announcement allowing increased university fees in line with inflation. Crucially, this increase would be dependent on a higher standard of teaching, thereby linking quality with price.

Criticisms of all changes abound. Not only students have the right to by furious, as Sally Hunt from the University and College Union claims. She emphasises how the increased fees are also bad for taxpayers, explaining that the “extra loan amount is unlikely to be repaid in full”. Thus an already existent flaw affecting all citizens would be exacerbated.

Yet these changes are even more problematic and infuriating on a social, ethical and moral level. As Paul Blomfield from the All-Party Parliamentary Grant on Students states, grants provided the “last remnant of fairness in the student support system”. By removing maintenance grants for poorer students the government is putting yet another hurdle in the way of those trying to improve their socio-economic status by following the pathway of higher education.

Similarly, the increase of tuition fees would be based on an Ofsted-style assessment in which teaching would be rated. Only those universities viewed as having “excellent” or “outstanding” teaching would be able to apply the full inflation increase, whilst those only “meeting expectations” would be restricted to half of the amount, something akin to a discounted education. Clearly this links the attainment of better education with money. This once again makes a system that should enable social mobility one that merely enhances the classed system that pervades society. The government has decided to do this in a climate where UK students already face the highest university fees of the world according to the OECD. How can anybody possible see this as feasible?

Osborne’s argument that reforms will “tackle the skills shortfall and encourage universities to provide a higher quality of teaching” hasn’t fooled anybody. Instead, reforms have widely been recognized as a means to increase tuition fees and a further hurdle for disadvantaged students.

[Kirsty Campbell]

Image – Guardian

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