The Tories are well and truly at it again. Their plans, announced by Higher Education Minister David Willetts and vigorously defended by David Cameron, to create extra places on university degree courses which are not publicly funded can only benefit those who are very well off. This is nothing short of a massive wheeze to buy advantage.
Britainis fast becoming a haven for the rich. On Sunday we learnt from the “Sunday Times Rich List” that the majority of millionaires have virtually no social conscience and donate little if anything to charity. (Please see my blog post yesterday). Now we see this millionaire led Tory coalition making university entrance easier for those who are able to pay significant sums of money for the privilege.
This is important. Higher education is a major pathway to social mobility. Once a government makes it more difficult for the less well off to obtain a university education, our society becomes ever more divided.
Shadow business secretary, John Denham, quoted in the Guardian today is absolutely right in saying: “Ability and ambition should be the only factors that determine which students can get into the most sought-after universities. This Tory government believes that access to wealth and privilege should trump ability.
“Middle-class, middle-income families whose children don’t get into selective universities at first shot are going to feel terrible pressure to raise private finance, to take out bank loans, to remortgage their homes or feel that they’ve betrayed their children.”
And John is just talking about those on middle incomes. Young people from families who earn less than the average will suffer disproportionately more.
The Liberal-Democrat reaction to the coalition’s plans is interesting, to put it mildly. Again according to the Guardian Tim Farron, the Party president and Liberal Democrat MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, said higher education should be “free at the point of use” for everyone who can benefit from going to university.
Farron told BBC News that any proposal that looked like increasing university access for the rich would not get his backing: “I hugely regret that there are tuition fees at all, never mind the higher ones we currently have. It’s right that we should explore ways that people from less well-off backgrounds have the best possible access to higher education.”
Meanwhile Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, the charity which campaigns to improve social mobility, said that the proposal would deal “a serious blow to social mobility”, stating that “Students from privileged backgrounds are already way overrepresented at our top universities and this will make matters worse.”