Double whammy of university policy failures threatens young people

As young people collect their A-level results today a double whammy of failed policies has left them in a precarious position, says NUS President Aaron Porter.

As young people collect their A-level results today a double whammy of failed policies has left them in a precarious position. Top-up fees, that threaten to be raised yet again, leave many feeling unable to mortgage their future on the hope of higher earnings whilst cuts to funding and places mean that those that chose to take the risk may miss out a place regardless of their ability or aspiration.

More than 650,000 people have applied for a place on university course this year, more than ever before, and this is being used by apologists for top-up fees, such as the Russell Group of ‘elite’ universities, as a demonstration that they do not deter young people from going university.

Clearly these people haven’t spoken to any students recently. If they did they would hear story after story of young people at the beginning of their working lives saddled with £20,000 or more of debt and terrified about what the future brings.

The same people say that this means that a further doubling, or even tripling, of fees would bring in the money that universities desperately need and not affect the numbers of young people who apply for a university course.

Once again they are ignoring clear evidence that the doubling of fees demanded by vice chancellors would put a significant proportion of students off going to university and that the prospect of debt affects those from lower-income families significantly more than others.

Even if fees were no deterrent to those from poorer backgrounds going to university, further widening the gap between rich and poor, they would still be deeply regressive.

A sticker price placed on a degree that asks a teacher to pay the same for their degree as a corporate lawyer, both professions that require a university education, unfairly punishes those who gain least financially from their degrees. The system is broken and must be replaced with one that asks graduates to contribute based on their real earnings.

That graduate contribution should be paired with recognition from the government that a well educated work-force is beneficial to society in general, and that this requires better investment. Public investment in higher education in the UK is below the OECD average, 20% less than France, and 10% less than the US.

Other countries recognise that higher level skills are essential for both economic recovery and the future employment needs of the country and continue to increase the number of places at university. The UK has slipped from third to eleventh placed in the OECD in its graduation rates, slipping behind countries like Japan, Sweden, and even Slovakia.

Of the 650,000 people applying for university this year, up to 200,000 will miss out on a place because the government has placed an arbitrary cap on the number of people that can go to university. This is not based on the number of qualified candidates – 3,500 straight A students weren’t offered a university place last year – but rather a lack of willingness from successive governments to fund places for every student with the ability and ambition to go into higher education.

Instead, the current government have compounded cuts made by their predecessor meaning that those students who do get a place at university will be entering institutions struggling to provide adequately for them.

For Ministers to decry poverty of opportunity while presiding over this current crisis is cheap talk, but to stand by and do nothing as young people are left to sink or swim is a dereliction of duty. Abandoning this generation of young people would cause permanent scars to individuals and their families, society and the economy.

More widely, there are clearly serious issues with a funding system that is unable to support the hundreds of thousands of applicants who have made the grade, and leaves a quarter of applicants without a place. The discredited system of top-up fees exploits applicants’ limited options by heaping £25,000 debt on top of the significant pressures they already face. Ministers must introduce a fair, progressive and sustainable alternative that supports rather than penalises students.

An educated workforce is the driver of a modern economy and a Government desperate to get the UK back on sound financial footing should recognise the transformative power of universities and students, and fund their future accordingly.

23 Responses to “Double whammy of university policy failures threatens young people”

  1. Aaron Porter

    RT @leftfootfwd: Double whammy of university policy failures threatens young people //bit.ly/c7i7pm says NUS Pres @AaronPorter

  2. David Bouvier

    Well if fees reflect the real cost of a degree and teachers can’t afford it, it tells us the state education system is using its near monopoly to underpay teachers.

    I suggest that transparent costs of degrees + fair rewards for teachers would be better than some kind of fudge to preserve the status quo.

    What you are seeing is a (wage) price signal telling those few who can succeed at it that they will be better paid as a high-flying lawyer than a teacher.

    If this leaves you short of teachers then a scheme for higher wages for teachers or schools paying down student loans as an employment benefit should help. And the government can create specific bursary schemes for degrees it wants – extra funds for engineers and scientists for example whose degrees are intrinsically expensive and economically valuable.

  3. DrKMJ

    Double whammy of university policy failures threatens young people //bit.ly/c7i7pm says NUS Pres @AaronPorter via @leftfootfwd

  4. Ell Aitch

    RT @leftfootfwd: Double whammy of university policy failures threatens young people //bit.ly/c7i7pm says NUS Pres @AaronPorter

  5. Essex Students Union

    Aaron Porter: Double whammy of university policy failures threatens young people //bit.ly/c7i7pm

  6. Larry Gardiner

    RT @leftfootfwd: Double whammy of university policy failures threatens young people //bit.ly/c7i7pm says NUS Pres @AaronPorter

  7. NUS UK

    'Double whammy of university policy failures threatens young people' blog from @aaronporter on Left Foot Forward //bit.ly/cjjDql

  8. Chris Boothroyd

    I don't know whether to laugh or cry RT@nusuk…@aaronporter on Left Foot Forward //bit.ly/cjjDql

  9. Katie Dalton

    RT @nusuk: 'Double whammy of university policy failures threatens young people' blog from @aaronporter on Left Foot Forward //bit.ly/cjjDql

  10. NUS Student Media

    RT @nusuk: 'Double whammy of university policy failures threatens young people' blog from @aaronporter on Left Foot Forward //bit.ly/cjjDql

  11. Aaron Porter

    RT @leftfootfwd 'Double whammy of university policy failures threatens young people' //bit.ly/c7i7pm says NUS Pres @AaronPorter

  12. Andrew Tindall

    RT @leftfootfwd: Double whammy of university policy failures threatens young people //bit.ly/c7i7pm says NUS Pres @AaronPorter

  13. Shamik Das

    NUS Pres @AaronPorter writes on A-Level results day for @leftfootfwd on the uni policy failures threatening students: //bit.ly/c7i7pm

  14. John Peart

    RT @AaronPorter: RT @leftfootfwd 'Double whammy of university policy failures threatens young people' //bit.ly/c7i7pm says NUS Pres @AaronPorter

  15. Sophie Bryce

    R.T: Double whammy of university policy failures threatens young people //bit.ly/c7i7pm (via @leftfootfwd)

  16. Mr. Sensible

    In times when there is likely to be pressure on places, it is not good that the Con Dems have slashed Labour’s target for new places by 50%.

    BTW, although slightly off topic, as it is results day, can I just say that I get so fed up of certain commentators in the media saying the exams are getting easier. Do people agree with me that this is an insult to students?

  17. Dominic Palmer

    RT @leftfootfwd: Double whammy of university policy failures threatens young people //bit.ly/c7i7pm

  18. WH

    Look what I, I mean my boss, made – //bit.ly/98WD8h //bit.ly/9qr7i6 //bit.ly/aGIwCH >particular like 'corrupt labour cronies'

  19. tpi

    Aaron: Is there any empirical evidence you can link to in order to substantiate the following claim that there exists QUOTE ‘clear evidence that the doubling of fees demanded by vice chancellors would put a significant proportion of students off going to university and that the prospect of debt affects those from lower-income families significantly more than others.’

    I haven’t seen any such evidence – all I’ve seen is people telling me there is clear evidence and pointing out that it seems logical. But is it? When I say empirical evidence I don’t mean isolated anecdotes (or surveys where current university students claim they would be put off), I mean studies showing students have been put off and have chosen not to apply / take places at university. Or studies showing increased fees and reduced applications from lower income backgrounds. etc. etc. etc.

  20. tpi

    Also, see //econrsss.anu.edu.au/Staff/ryan/pdf/La%20Trobe%20DP%20A06-04.pdf – a study in Australia which concluded, amongst other things, that ‘We find no evidence
    that credit constraints deter high achieving students from attending university in Aus-
    tralia, a country with an income contingent loan scheme for higher education tuition
    fees. ‘

  21. tpi

    Hmm… so much for evidence based political blogging then. Not a shred of evidence offered by the author.

    The hint is probably in his caveat:

    QUOTE ‘Even if fees were no deterrent to those from poorer backgrounds going to university, further widening the gap between rich and poor, they would still be deeply regressive.’

    Show yourself Aaron Porter! Why would higher fees be deeply regressive if they didn’t have that effect? Otherwise it’s just sloppy thinking.

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