Wednesday 29 April 2009

Free for all on tuition will embed two-tier world

Graduates leaving university this summer are already worrying about their double whammy of the poor job market and being the first set of students to have paid tuition fees.
According to one survey, two thirds of graduates do not expect to find a graduate-level job once they complete their studies.
On the same day, (the irony, the irony) a set of elite universities have been pushing their case to be allowed to raise the £3,000 per year cap on tuition fees.
Already potential students are worrying about the cost of even going to university, while others are choosing their potential campus based on the price of living in a city, rather than its academic quality.
Typically the cost factor is going to hold back students from poorer families, or families who have previously not attended higher education from applying.
If in the UK, we have a set of universities which charge £10,000 per year for tuition, and another set that charge £3,000 there will be young people who won't even dream of applying to the first more expensive set, and we will embed a two-tier system of higher education even further.
An interesting Sutton Trust report has already shown that Britain is wasting talent. That some of its most talented but poorer school pupils fail to go on to take A levels.
And another report showed that nearly two thirds of young people who chose not to apply to university did so because of fear of debt.
Students from poorer socio-economic backgrounds are far more likely to apply to a university nearby - rather than apply to the best university for their subject. Again cost is a factor.
And here's something not very surprising - pupils from private schools are far less likely to choose a local university than a state school student.
As must be obvious to all of us, rich kids from rich families don't worry about tuition fees and paying them, and poor kids do.
By allowing the cap on tuition fees to be lifted, and to allow a free-for-all in the tuition fee market, these differences will become more and more marked.


Stuart White said...

Rachel: you make a good point.

But what if higher tuition fees are combined with needs-based scholarships for children from low-middle income families? The government massively subsidises HE and a huge amount of that subsidy goes to the kids of the middle-classes. Why not target the subsidy more?

Speaking to the very long-run, and utopianly, the solution might be to have decent capital grants for all young adults - not just subsidies for those in HE - and let people decide how much they want to spend on HE.

Rachael Jolley said...

Stuart - I see your point, but I tend to think that those from families who haven't a tradition of going to university would still have a tendency to apply only to "cheaper" universities. The fee is like the price on the box, if you are used to paying thousands of pounds for things without worrying, it won't stop you. For those where pennies are counted more closely it would be a huge disincentive.

Surely, it would just be another barrier to stop all sorts of people applying to "elite" universities, if they cost £10,000 a year, and choosing to limit their education options by applying only to universities where tuition is £3,000 a year.

British universities should not be excluding talent based on how much they can pay.