Coalition policy is a programme not for social mobility but for social engineering

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, writes about how the coalition's policies are a programme for social engineering - not social mobility.

Sally Hunt is the general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU)

As we approach the last summer and academic year under the current funding system, we now know that around one in three university applicants will miss out on a place at university this year. There is a real fear that for many potential students this was their final chance of a degree education before tuition fees triple.

Ministers may talk all they like about the new system being fairer, but the public are not just smarter than perhaps ministers give them credit for, they also live in the real world and have very real fears about such high levels of debt that will take so very long to pay off.

The tragedy is that yet again, more than 200,000 people will miss out on a place at university – despite being encouraged to strive for, and apply to, university. When you shut the door on opportunity for our young people you don’t just waste lives, you waste money too.

If you compare the cost of keeping people on benefit to the cost of giving them a chance in life, it is clear that ignorance is the expensive option, not education.

If the legacy the coalition inherited was far from golden, what they have done to university education and its cost in just 12 months beggars belief. Last year, we demonstrated how the UK is the most expensive place to get a public education in the world. And that was before the tripling of university fees and the axing of Education Maintenance Allowance.

What a terrible indictment of this government that already it has made it harder to get to university and it will be a lot more expensive if you do. Ministers may claim their goal is to promote social mobility, but we must judge them by what they do not what they say. In reality coalition policy is about putting barriers up, not pulling them down. It is a programme not for social mobility but for social engineering.

We have very real fears that the government will use the forthcoming white paper to allow for-profit higher education providers which will undercut our universities in terms of price and quality. The demand for higher education is clearly there, but so are the fears over cost.

We need to look very carefully at the American example of permitting private providers easy access into the higher education system. The fact that one provider’s most expensive department is the one dealing with student litigation speaks volumes about why the US Senate has launched an inquiry into for-profit providers.

More than 200,000 students already look like being losers this summer because of a refusal to properly fund university places – they must not simply be left to the private firms looking to make a quick buck.

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