Tuesday, 25 January 2011
Nice in theory, but how scientifically rigorous and politically useful can this study be? Taking aside large philosophical and sociological discussions on whether 'class' as a concept is a valid tool for defining societal groupings, 80 subjects over x-number of years will most likely produce one of three broad results:
1. Poor kids do better proportionally after HE than their well off counter-parts.
2. Poor kids are worse off proportionally after HE than their well off counter-parts.
3. Poor kids are neither worse nor better off proportionally after HE than their well off counter-parts.
Regardless of the outcome (which will certainly be pounced upon by HE, the media and politicans alike) this will be a context dependent study. One that can only be applied for the period that it assessed.
If the study takes place from 2011-2020 say, then due to the ever changing political and educational developments the results can only be applicable for that period. Meaning that retrospectively it is interesting, but when the study is concluded it will practically be quite useless.
If the results are favourable, then it will be a great PR coup for Bristol University and University of the West of England. Potentially this could be extrapolated to discuss wider issues in HE - which can only be a good thing.
If the results are not favourable then we could be in a whole heap of trouble as a sector.
Fingers crossed then that those 80 kids make the rest of the 2.5 million entrants in HE look good.
Wednesday, 12 January 2011
Aside from abstaining from the Commons vote on Fees he has little to no direct experience or knowledge of higher education. Not that this should deter Parliamentary appointments to positions – they can always bone up with a primer on their area of incredible responsibility overnight Alan Johnson style.
Coupled with this, and David Willett’s frantic assertions of his political philosophy being firmly grounded in the Haldane principle, I have to ask what in heavens name Simon Hughes was thinking by proposing that the number of private school students going to university should be capped.
This comes days after Hughes directed Ministers to include a minimum number of state educated students should be planted into HE.
Both are errors in ideology from the 'Access Tsar' over the purpose of universities and motives behind the choice to take on the debt to get a degree.
The error itself lies in the notion that preferential treatment should be given to state educated kids on application to university; and conversely that kids from a private background should be discriminated against. My issue is that this discrimination is not based on academic ability but on the income of the family and the educational establishment that the child has thus far experienced.
Given that their seems to be yet another rise in UCAS applications scheduled for later this year; now is the time for BIS to turn to universities to not enforce some spurious equal rights agenda but to enforce something more crucial than ever to the survival of the HE sector: discrimination based on academic ability.
Social class; educational background and parental income should never be taken into consideration when deciding whether a student is of the academic quality to enter into an institution. Interview bias aside, whether the applicant has an aptitude based on their academic performance to date and their communication of academic intelligence should be the strongest criteria.
What Simon Hughes is proposing is not a novel idea – some may have forgotten that Vince Cable had proposed an identical notion in July 2010 to reserve top spaces for state students – but he should be proposing it to Michael Gove and the primary/secondary education system and not the HE sector’s governors.
Attitudes towards going to university are forged (or should be) before a child decides what GCSE’s they are to take. GCSE choice largely restricts the subjects that can be chosen at A-level which in turn restricts, along with grade, what subjects you can apply for at university. This in turn impacts on your career choice and ultimately your entire life.
Hughes’ role as Access Tsar should not be about imposing quite frankly worrying restrictions on the human rights of privately educated students to apply in a free marketplace of higher education. It should be about advising on best ways to improve the perception of Higher Education (and education generally) amongst those that statistically have low attendance and participation in the system.
The decisions we make at that young an age have ramifications for the rest of our lives. Ensuring strong advice from secondary tutors and careers guidance services in all types of school, state or private, should be one of Hughes biggest missions.
What he is currently proposing, if it goes through, is nothing more than creating a whole new facet of bias in the already biased admissions system and only serves to provide some pretty statistics to show that the Government truly is improving access.
Gove has just appeared on BBC News saying "For far too long we have automatically assumed that poor children can’t succeed – that’s wrong." He is right. The helping hand to state educated kids should not be at the expense of the privately educated. The helping hand should not be by having a biased recruitment process in HE. The helping hand should be in improving the perception of higher education and its benefits to state educated students.
This is not a quick fix. Hughes should remember that.
Wednesday, 5 January 2011
The poorest students should not pay tuition fees, the next head of
Eric Thomas, soon to be head of UUK as well as being VC for
Over Christmas, Simon Hughes MP was appointed “Advocate for Access to Education”. Hughes famously abstained from the Commons vote to implement the new fees scale and so has a lot to gain politically from this role should he succeed in supervising and enforcing access changes in the forthcoming Higher Education White Paper.
With Lib Dem support at an all time low, the semi-rebel must communicate effectively what the changes actually mean for lower-income prospective students to be able to rescue any semblance of honour at the ballot box. David Cameron has already admitted that the Government has lost the propaganda battle on this issue – but is Prof. Thomas’ decision anything short of mudding the issue further?
Before even Hughes’ appointment he was facing an uphill struggle. With the NUS failing to accurately and neutrally present the facts of the policy changes (indeed why should they!) and the riots being emblazoned across every paper and news report for weeks; access to Higher Education from lower income families is already doubtlessly damaged. Now we hear that the Bristol VC is subverting the efforts of Hughes before he has started by presupposing that lower income families cannot comprehend what the policy changes mean for them.
This is not an exaggeration in my mind. We know the facts: future students won’t pay anything up front and importantly they won’t pay it back until they earn above average per annum salary after graduating (£21k). Clarity and detail is desperately needed on many scores (including the roles of HEFCE, the SLC and the national scholarship scheme).
One of the conditions of universities being able to charge the higher rate of £9,000 is that they must widen participation. Taking fees away from the poorer students will fulfil these criteria in part; but will mean that those from middle income families will have to think harder than expected about whether they want to continue onto higher education. The debt is not the same a mortgage debt. It is not the same a credit card debt. But if you tell a teenager that they could be facing ‘debt’ of up to £80,000 then they will of course run for the hills.
Take this worry away from lower income students and increasing the worry in middle class families will not help access in those areas – even if it does mean that
Communicating the changes effectively and ensuring that everyone understands that they only pay back their fees if they are ‘successful’ after leaving will ensure fairness for all. Prof. Thomas does not need to patronise poorer families.
Thomas and Simon Hughes must for the sake of the sector focus more on communicating fair decisions and ramifications and less on bribery.