Opinions

Who is paying the price for private universities?

The gradual privatisation of Higher Education is one of the gravest phenomena faced by under 18’s in Britain today. Surprisingly, the public have shown little outrage at the establishment of private institutions such as Grayling’s ‘New College of the Humanities’ due to open its doors to an intake of students in Bloomsbury this autumn, and the utterances regarding Oxbridge quietly preparing themselves to jump on the bandwagon.

Introduction of Tuition Fees

Back in 2004, when the Labour government first introduced

Higher education -- Remember young man, your f...

(Photo credit: marsmet471)

top-up fees capped at £3,000 per annum, they were met with opposition from students’ unions and protestations by party members. So contentious was the issue, in fact, that the legislation passed by only 5 more votes in favour in the House of Commons. However, the government attempted to set out ‘fair’ policies in ensuring that students from low-income backgrounds did not feel the financial sting of this initiative, including government-funded grants, and the gradual repayment of fees. Eventually, many accepted this policy, and fees were regarded as relatively reasonable compared to other rates set by universities outside the UK.

2010 Tuition Fee Rise – Appalling

Although university tuition fees rose year-on-year, it was not until the 2010 general election that British nationals saw the opportunity to repeal these costs. One of the Lib Democrats’ main propositions in the pre-election campaign was that these fees should be abolished. The falsity of these promises was realised in the formation of a one-sided coalition government, dominated by the Conservatives, and wilfully propped up by Nick Clegg and Vince Cable. In 2011, the majority of UK universities announced their intentions to set fees at £9,000 per year, under the newly-introduced, newly-increased government cap. Justifiably, students and many teachers were appalled by the blatant hypocrisy of the Liberal Democrats who looked on, whilst many under 18’s were priced out of the higher education sector.

UCAS has seen a reduction in university applications between 2011 and 2012 of -7.7% in one year. Young people from lower income backgrounds no longer see university as a viable option. The paltry promises from the current Cabinet that those from disadvantaged economic backgrounds will be sufficiently supported through higher education appear to have been inadequate in offering reassurance.

Universities Undergoing Underground Privatisation?

However, this is the least of my displeasures with the current education policy. Indeed, this makes access for students of all social and economic backgrounds infuriatingly more difficult, yet it is the underground privatisation that poses a larger threat to our young people. The universities system in Britain is becoming a melting pot of those universities where fees are required, and those which are, shockingly, completely private. It seems as though we are regressing to offering those who can afford to pay an Oxbridge style education, such as that offered at the New College of the Humanities. This will further increase the achievement gap between the economically advantaged and disadvantaged in the UK. The New College of the Humanities has a party of famous, well- respected academics performing lectures and teaching students. The College also promises sparkling job and networking opportunities. We are denying all of our young people the experiences they deserve to have; achievement and attainment should be the sole basis upon which they are granted a place at university, not their wealth. But in this case, it’s not just academic capital this college is selling, it’s also social and cultural capital. We are denying our young people the power of leverage, possibilities to take advantage of networks, contacts and opportunities that are priceless. Except, we have put a price on it. And it’s our most socially and economically disadvantaged children that will be paying for not being able to afford it.

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ABOUT AUTHOR – ALICE MUMBY

alice mumbyAlice graduated from the University of York with a degree in English and Philosophy in 2010. She is      currently in her final year of the Teach First Leadership Development Programme, having completed a PGCE in her first year. Through the programme and her time at university she has also completed internships at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and York Cares, part of the Business in the Community group.

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