End Elitist Education

Posted on July 9, 2009

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It emerged yesterday that the government is considering “no fee degrees”, a scheme whereby students in this country would pay no tuition fees but also be ineligible for any sort of financial support from the government. The plan would primarily benefit students who choose to remain living at home with their parents, as well as students continuing their education beyond their initial degree.

I choose to ignore the obvious point that students remaining at home during their time at university miss out on vital aspects of university life, such as the process of leaving home, making new friends and living an independent life away from the watchful eyes of their next of kin. This point is crucial, yet I believe it to be relatively insignificant when we consider the larger issue- the elitism that has becoming noticeably predominant in Britain’s education system.

It is my position, and that of many on the left, that education should be a right rather than a privilege, and therefore New Labour’s introduction of tuition fees was one of Blair and Brown’s greatest betrayals. Student loans make the fees slightly more bearable, but in some cases they are not enough, and most students still leave university with crippling amounts of debt. Saddling the future of this country with such debt is criminal enough as it is to my mind, but leaving poorer students who have shown great ability and work ethic to better themselves in such a sorry financial state is unforgivable. Young people seeking to further their minds and their experiences should, in my opinion, not have to pay for it, particularly under a so-called ‘labour’ government. The same goes for private schools. Privately-educated myself, I run the risk of being labelled a ‘champagne socialist’ here, but in the interest of fair play it seems to me that one child should not be entitled to a better education than another simply because their parents earn more money.

The latest review of the university system looks set to increase the levels of elitism that are already evident. The debate regarding tuition fees is not over whether they should be disposed of, but rather whether the fixed cap on fees should be raised or, god forbid, removed completely. Such a move would only serve to make the best universities less accessible to less privileged young people. The “no fees” system being mooted currently would make it easier for poorer young people to study at university, but at the same time deny them the chance to leave the communities in which they grew up. Also, in spite of the government’s arguments to the contrary, I find it impossible to believe that such a scheme would not simply lead to a system whereby those entering higher education through receive a lower quality education and a less valuable degree.

I am in agreement with James Greenhalgh of the UK Youth Parliament, who argues: “It is frightening to think how many students would end up choosing a local university, regardless of whether it is the right option for them, because they want to avoid paying tuition fees.” Rather than allowing a gulf to open up between those able or willing to pay and those who are not, why not revert back to a completely fair system where anyone who wants a university education can get one, funded by the government, regardless of their wealth or social status. Those who argue that there simply isn’t the money for that are either blind or stupid. Our government spends lots more money on fair more useless things every year. Some people argue that too many people are going to university, especially in times of job sparsity such as today. Many even refer to current levels of university applications as a ‘crisis’. I don’t buy these arguments. Young people wishing to educate themselves is something that should be encouraged, especially in a recession. They should be encouraged by a free and universal education system with the potential to benefit each and every young person in exactly the same way. It is these values, my values, which make it so depressing to note that current rethinks of the way people are educated in this country will serve only to alter, and most likely further entrench, Britain’s elitist education system, with the real shame being that it was Tony Blair and his ‘labour’ government that took perhaps the most decisive step.

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Posted in: Issues, Politics