Who cares whether the poor go to university or not?
It looks increasingly likely that most universities will set their fees at the top rate of £9000. As Mike Baker explains here, this is because universities will have to charge at least £7500 just to maintain current levels of income once the teaching grant gets slashed, but most will opt to add another £1500 to that figure because none will want to appear cut price and second rate when compared to other institutions.
This is bad news for the government. It is literally banking on price ‘differentiation’, since its projected figures on the cost of funding student loans rest upon the assumption that the average fees will be somewhere between £8000 and £8500. But Mike Baker suggests that students themselves would prefer to be at a university that charges the full whack because, well, who wants a degree from higher education’s equivalent of Poundland? And who wants to be at an institution that charges less and therefore spends less on your education?
Baker argues that this is were the whole fees affair gets interesting because if most universities charge £9000 then this will leave the government out of pocket since the cost of funding student loans will exceed the anticipate £3.6bn As a consequence it’s threatening to ‘claw back’ money from institutions that charge the full 9k by reducing further their teaching grant.
All of which begs the question: if you’re a forward thinking, entrepreneurial university, why don’t you just tell the government to take its teaching grant and stick it up its arse? You could go private; charge what you like and free yourself from the dead-hand of government bureaucracy and its stultifying audit culture. The very thought of new lean, mean, private universities probably sets some Tory pulses racing. Dear God, it even makes this looney lefty’s heart flutter a little, such is my contempt for the endless, worthless administration that I associate with government regulation.
But back to the substance of this post. What does all this mean for students from low income families? Well, apparently universities charging more than £6000 may be fined or forced to reduce their fees if they fail to reach their quota of poor people! But who really gives a fuck about the poor (they are after all, always with us)?
We live in a class ridden society and education plays a crucial role in reproducing social stratification, with people striving to acquire qualifications, which they hope will give them competitive advantage over others in the job market. Someone has got to be poor, so just be glad it isn’t you… or perhaps it is you, in which case you may find some consolation in the notion that your relative poverty is a sort of public service that allows others to get on.
All the government cant about ensuring places in higher education for people from low income families is becoming tiresome. It serves a similar function to charity in the minds of the affluent. It salves the conscious while licensing ‘business as usual’.
I suppose that what I’m suggesting is this: the government’s insistence on universities providing opportunities for young people from low income families is all a bit cosmetic. Why would Tories care whether the poor go to university or not? In pure economic terms (the only terms the Tories seem to understand), what would be the advantage of putting low income students through higher education? In fact, given the potential costs of funding student loans in the future, the government may feel that there is a better economic case for keeping the poor out of universities.
The more pointed question is why does the Left want to encourage working class and low income families to consider university as a viable option? Social mobility? Economic prosperity? Do me a favour! Social mobility is encouraged by the redistribution of wealth not education. And there is little evidence that putting more people through HE makes us all richer.
The Right, deep down in its fetid subconscious, may not give a flying fuck about the poor and whether they get a higher education or not. But the Left has got to come up with a convincing argument about why education matters and what education is for, that doesn’t rely on stupid platitudes about social mobility and prosperity.