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.

14 Responses to “Coalition policy is a programme not for social mobility but for social engineering”

  1. Dave Citizen

    Unfortunately, this coalition government is a pretty true reflection of the people that voted it in – timid and risk averse, opting for ‘safe’ options like balancing the books (read short term balanced budgets) by tightening our belts (read cutting public expenditure in areas not directly linked to supporting the current GDP economy). In this mindset it would indeed be foolish to risk upsetting Britain’s “wealth creators” (read rich people who use their wealth to maintain and reinforce their power and influence).

    So, gone is any grand vision of what Britain could be if we really went for it. Gone is any prospect of genuinely taking on wealth and access inequalities such as to the best schools and universities. Gone is any chance of a significantly better Britain. Instead, if we all know our place and don’t rock the boat, we might get lucky and at least work to get a little bit of something good for ‘me and my kids’.

    Coalition Britain is a bit sad really.

  2. mr. Sensible

    Dave people didn’t vote it in did they. It is because the Liberal Democrats did a complete 180 degree turn that we are in this situation.

    The government is in a complete mess on education..

  3. Ed's Talking Balls

    Mr. Sensible,

    I’m rather confused by that logic.

    True, no-one votes for a coalition before an election, unless it expressly makes itself an option on the ballot paper. But are you really telling me that all coalitions are thus illegitimate? If so, do countries with PR which invariably produce coalitions never have legitimate governments? Seems odd to me.

    As for whether the government is in a complete mess on education, I’m not sure I agree. Yes, the universities legislation has been a right balls-up from start to finish. But much more important, in my view, is schools policy. I’m glad that the coalition is keen to boost the flagging credbility of exams. Further, I think the acceleration of the academies scheme is a good thing and am hopeful that Gove will get support for free schools. I worry that the government may climb down due to vitriol from the unions, however.

  4. John L

    “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.”

    Whilst I abhor what the current government’s seemingly insatiable appetite to make public debt private, I have to object to the general tone of this post. If, of course, I take it to mean what I think it does. If not, then I apologise sincerely.
    The comment above particularly struck a chord with me. Are you implying that unless somebody gets into university, they are destined for a life on the dole?
    I really take offence to the idea that if you don’t go to ‘uni’, you’re some sort of loser. Yes – education should be free, or at least a damn sight cheaper than £9kpa, but university is not for everybody. I know – I’m one of them! I did a ‘modern apprenticeship’ and loved it.

  5. Ed's Talking Balls

    John L,

    I couldn’t agree more.

    I think these targets regarding university applications are misguided and send a poor message to those who, like you, take an alternative but equally worthy route.

    In fact, I’d take a motivated worker, willing to get his hands dirty, over a graduate with a poor degree from a poor university, every time. University is not the be-all-and-end-all; if people are going to be indebted up to their eyeballs then then should be made very clear.

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