Simon Hughes has a huge responsibility to ensure fair access to universities

National Union of Students president Aaron Porter writes about the huge responsibility facing the govt's new 'Advocate for Access to Education' Simon Hughes.

Yesterday I sent a letter to Simon Hughes MP, marking his appointment as the government’s ‘Advocate for Access to Education’. I welcome the creation of this role and I plan to work with Mr Hughes to influence the implementation of the government’s plans for further and higher education to ensure that as few students as possible are put off by the rise in tuition fees, and progress to widen access to students from disadvantaged backgrounds continues.

Make no mistake, the rise in tuition fees and cuts to funding and access schemes will damage access, but I have a responsibility to work to ensure a fairer deal for students wherever opportunities exist and whatever the overall picture. To cease to engage in the process now would lead to further damage for students. It is more vital now than ever that we push for protections to access.

Figures from UCAS yesterday suggested that one in three applicants could miss out on a university place next year as students hoping to beat the rise in fees compete with the hundreds of thousands that missed out in the last couple of years.

Placing arbitrary limits on the number of places will almost inevitably exclude talented and ambitious candidates, denying them the chance to fulfil their potential at a time when our economic recovery desperately needs talented people with good qualifications. It is a fact that virtually every developed nation is investing in higher education in order to aid economic recovery – just the UK and Romania are reducing investment.

Facing the difficult circumstances we are presented with Simon Hughes now has a vital role in protecting university education and the hopes and ambitions of a generation. His record so far has not been good – letting his constituents down by abstaining on the vote setting an example for other abstentions and allowing the bill to pass – but he has always spoken of the importance of ensuring fair access even whilst speaking about the plans to raise tuition fees, so I believe we can work constructively with him on this matter.

In my letter I made a series of recommendations to Mr Hughes that should form his initial priorities as he takes on his new role.

First, he should ensure clarification of the Government’s ‘National Scholarship Scheme’, this should have been finalised before fees were allowed to rise, it was not and it becomes increasingly urgent that students are told how its funds will be directed.

He must ensure too that the government is held to its promise that only in ‘exceptional circumstances’ would universities be permitted to raise fees to more than £6,000 and also that there be real requirements on universities to ensure they recruit from under-represented groups. The current record, particularly of the most famous universities, in recruiting from disadvantaged groups is appalling and must be reversed.

He should work towards the reinstatement of the much under-rated AimHigher scheme which worked with younger people from disadvantaged backgrounds to promote applications for university and raise aspiration amongst groups where levels of application are currently very low.

It is important too that the government addresses the concerns of those in the Muslim community who feel that the rise in the interest rate on tuition fee loans means they feel unable to access them. These concerns have been raised with ministers but so far there has been no response.

Finally, and potentially most importantly, Simon Hughes must call for the instatement of the Education Maintenance Allowance.

The EMA is a vital lifeline for many studying at A-Level and is proven to improve achievement and attainment for those from poorer backgrounds. The Institute for Fiscal Studies analysed the cost-effectiveness of the EMA and found that for any expected outcome it was an effective and worthwhile tool. It has already been scrapped and Mr Hughes has been given jurisdiction only to recommend how its paltry replacement funds are spent but he must fight for the full reinstatement of the EMA.

The UCAS figures underline just how fiercely university places will be fought for until government begins investing in higher education again. Mr Hughes is in a position to ensure that it is not those from the wealthiest backgrounds or the sharpest elbows that get to university but rather those with greatest ambition and the potential to benefit most.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today. 

26 Responses to “Simon Hughes has a huge responsibility to ensure fair access to universities”

  1. Andrew Fenlon

    RT @leftfootfwd: Simon Hughes has a huge responsibility to ensure fair access to universities: http://bit.ly/fOJNNu writes @AaronPorter

  2. Caroline Alabi

    RT @leftfootfwd: Simon Hughes has a huge responsibility to ensure fair access to universities: http://bit.ly/fOJNNu writes @AaronPorter

  3. Manuel Padovan

    RT @leftfootfwd: Simon Hughes has a huge responsibility to ensure fair access to universities http://bit.ly/gGX7EG – just sounds so wrong.

  4. Extradition Game

    RT @leftfootfwd: Simon Hughes has a huge responsibility to ensure fair access to universities: http://bit.ly/fOJNNu writes @AaronPorter

  5. Hitchin England

    RT @leftfootfwd: Simon Hughes has a huge responsibility to ensure fair access to universities: http://bit.ly/fOJNNu writes @AaronPorter

  6. Mr. Sensible

    Aaron, I think it’s a bit ridiculous that Simon Hughes is trying to promote higher education based on a fees policy he didn’t even fully support…

    The government is presumably wanting to cut funding to cut the deficit but, as I have demonstrated before on here, their plans could actually increase the deficit.

    I fully agree with you on both EMA and Aimhigher. The government’s proposals on scholarships and access have, up to now, lacked detail. Giving us some detail might be a step in the right direction.

  7. pat roche

    the situation with simon hughes is that he does not seem to have a moral yardstick of any kind. This does seem to be the trend of the new lib dems who seem to prop up any plot the tories put forward.

  8. Pat Raven

    RT @leftfootfwd: Simon Hughes has a huge responsibility to ensure fair access to universities: http://bit.ly/fOJNNu writes @AaronPorter

  9. Gabriel

    Aaron, your welcoming of Mr Hughes into a role which is essentially to attempting to convince teenagers that a life of debt, advocating policies that the man didn’t even support in the first place is pretty pathetic.

    Your saying you believe you can work beside him because, despite his actions to the contrary, he still speaks about fair access doesn’t surprise me given your own similar behaviour of saying one thing and doing another,with your promising to support occupations legally and financially here…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpRCDmhhgrg
    …and then your complete backturn on that promise without so much of an explanation why, leaving many young student activists in severe legal and financial jeopardy. You have shown many a time that you have no real interest in actually achieving the aims of the student movement, calling conflicting NUS demonstrations to those that had already been organised by the natural movement, such as the day before the tuition fee vote, only changing after severe pressure from underneath.Yet you continually seem to present yourself as if you are:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/dec/13/aaron-porter-nus-president-fees?INTCMP=SRCH

    The student movement has no intention of giving up on the issue of tuition fees now that the vote has passed. Already, besides the Kent occupation that stayed in over Xmas Leeds Trinity has achieved the first re-occupation of the year. Yet your immediate capitulation to the understanding that tuition fees will start from £6000 per annum shows absolutely none of the spirit, zeal and determination of those whose activism you have been claiming to be a part of.

    It is very easy to call for the EMA to not be abolished as, beside that fact that it shouldn’t be, you’re the NUS president and to not do that would be political suicide for a ladder-climbing, career-chasing man such as yourself. But have we seen a single, A SINGLE, risk taken by you in the interests of those you claim to represent. No. Not one.

    Simon Hughes has a huge responsibility, yes, but only because you shirked your own.

  10. Sarah

    1. “The rise in tuition fees” suggests your acceptance of the implementation of this policy. Students around the country disagree with this and are fighting hard against any execution of fees rises. As President of the NUS, I expect you to support these protests with logistical, financial and legal backing.

    2. “Raise fees to more than £6,000” could be to any amount. Do you mean the proposed £9,000 cap? I hope this does not indicate that they could be higher.

    3. “Real requirements” for “exceptional circumstances” could be spread across the board if the requirements are low.

    4. “It [EMA] has already been scrapped”. I thought that parliament are voting on this on the 11th January, another chance for you to tangibly support student protests against education cuts.

  11. hens4freedom

    RT @leftfootfwd: Simon Hughes has a huge responsibility to ensure fair access to universities: http://bit.ly/fOJNNu writes @AaronPorter

  12. Anon E Mouse

    Why is it the only time students seem to be bitching is when it involves their personal circumstances and money?

    All credit to Peter Hain who fought against racism as a student, a cause worth protesting about.

    If anyone thinks the working classes in this country will have sympathy because some student’s beer money – sorry EMA – is taken from them needs to get real because these selfish middle class wusses are doing the governments job for them…

  13. Mr. Sensible

    Mr Mouse, a good deal of the students who are protesting won’t actually be effected themselves; they are either studying already or have already graduated.

    They’re concerned about access for the next group.

  14. cim

    Placing arbitrary limits on the number of places will almost inevitably exclude talented and ambitious candidates

    This is true. Removing this limit, however, requires moving from a “block grant” funding model for undergraduate teaching to a “per-student” model, which means cutting every university’s paper teaching grant to zero or near-zero if you still give a STEM lab-based supplement, and letting them compete in a market for individually-funded student places instead (as they currently do for postgraduate and international undergraduate places already). It also makes it much simpler for the entirety of teaching costs to be charged as tuition fees rather than partly as fees and partly as direct government grants, though this isn’t absolutely necessary. (The government pays up-front either way, of course, but the funding to do so comes from different sources, and whether you call it a fee loan, a graduate contribution, a graduate tax, or general taxation doesn’t make that much difference)

    Alternatively, as the protestors (implicitly) suggest we could retain the status quo where there is relatively little market-style competition between universities, a definite (too low?) limit on places set by HEFCE et al and enforced by fines, but much less risk of under-recruiting universities going bankrupt or being forced into mergers.

    Is this a change of direction by NUS to broadly accept the principles of Browne but to have concerns about the details of implementation?

  15. Anon E Mouse

    Mr.Sensible – What you say may well be true but why can’t these students just go and get part time jobs instead of putting their hand out expecting the state to provide free money.

    What all these types of articles show is that Labour and their supporters really don’t get it. The days of huge state monopolies and government controlling every aspect of our lives are over. Gone. Socialism is dead and is not coming back.

    Oh there will be losers bleating like helpless sheep because this or that has gone but eventually they will have to live with the new reality.

    Every country is doing it – like the last Labour treasury minister said “There’s no money left” after his party had totally bankrupted the country and left someone else to sort the mess out.

    The old ways of wasting other peoples money are over and I would suggest that people get used to it and move on…

  16. Spir.Sotiropoulou

    RT @leftfootfwd: Simon Hughes has a huge responsibility to ensure fair access to universities http://bit.ly/gGX7EG

  17. NUS Student Media

    'Simon Hughes has a huge responsibility to ensure fair access to universities', Aaron Porter – http://tiny.cc/dtwhj

  18. TC

    @Anon.E.Mouse,

    How do you suggest that students earn £9,000, on top of accommodation and other living costs? In my city, which is cheaper than most, the minimum Universities suggest you need per year for living costs is £7,000. The maximum you can expect in ‘maintenance loans’ these days is around £4,000.

    Simply put; the rich can afford not to work, the poor, if they want to stay out of debt, must have a £16,000 part time job. Likely? Even if they take on the debt, the detrimental effect that working while studying has can be substantial.

    And there is money left: its in the banks, the banker’s bonuses, people like Osborne’s trust funds etc etc.

  19. Aaron Porter

    RT @leftfootfwd: Simon Hughes has a huge responsibility to ensure fair access to universities: http://bit.ly/fOJNNu writes @AaronPorter

  20. NUS Student Media

    RT @AaronPorter: RT @leftfootfwd: Simon Hughes has a huge responsibility to ensure fair access to universities: http://bit.ly/fOJNNu wri …

  21. Anon E Mouse

    TC – What happened before the EMA?

    Life for people who are rich will always be easier – they’re rich. So what? Life sucks.

    I don’t complain about the multi millionaire Countess Toff, Harriet Harman who went to the same school as Osborne because she’s rich. I complain because she’s a hypocrite whose husband Jack Dromey got elected under her “All woman shortlist” which stinks.

    All you are displaying is the politics on envy and with the Labour leader being a tax avoiding property millionaire who was in the treasury when Brown rewarded the bankers with deregulation I feel your comments are misguided.

    Tories are Tories. I expect it from them.

    I do not expect Labour leaders to be people who haven’t worked a single day in their whole life because by being so they should be considered the hypocrites which they clearly are.

    Alan Johnson should be leader although in fairness Miliband wasn’t elected by Labour members or Labour MP’s.

    Regarding EMA – tough I’m afraid. Like the Labour Treasury Minister said there was no money left…

  22. blogs of the world

    National Union of Students president Aaron Porter writes about the huge responsibility fac… http://reduce.li/3j1r5w #responsibility

  23. Mr. Sensible

    Mr Mouse I’m afraid we’ve been there before…

    Further to what TC says, look at the economic reality…

    And if there’s no money left, then where’s the money coming from to load more strain on to the public finances with larger write-off costs?

  24. Look Left – Former Labour MP sent down for expenses fraud | Left Foot Forward

    […] Writing on Left Foot Forward, president of the National Union of Students Aaron Porter welcomed the creation of the role, and pledged to work with Mr Hughes: “Facing the difficult […]

  25. Clare Jenkins

    Was shocked to hear the heinous recommendations regarding privately educated pupils being ‘penalised’! Please, please, please bear in mind that not all privately educated pupils come from a privaliged background. Some parents who make this life choice for their children strugle for many years to see the choice through and as a result do not start paying off mortgages until the schooling fees are finished, do not have holidays abroad, cannot buy flat screen TV’s!! A lot of these ‘luxuries’ are enjoyed and taken for granted by state school families. ~There are no tax breaks, just hard work to see it through and such kids should have a fair and equitable chance in any university.

  26. A small mercy for the marching students of tomorrow | Left Foot Forward

    […] Simon Hughes has a huge responsibility to ensure fair access to universities – Aaron Porter, January 5th […]

Leave a Reply