The Government wants poor people to not get a good degree?

Plans to force low-performing universities to drop their fees is actually a covert government plan to subjugate and demoralise the poor, or something stupid and kooky like that.

I read an interesting article yesterday in The Independent, titled “The Government is making it harder for poor students to get a good degree”. Ah yes, I thought, maybe the Government is specifically targeting the way means-testing works so as to diminish the amount poorer students receive in loans. They took away student grants, which is more of an annoyance than a hindrance, so maybe they’ve gone and attacked means-testing. I mean, that’s got to be one of the few ways they can make it harder for poor people to go to University – unless they remove student loans altogether!

So, somewhat begrudgingly, I gave a click to The Independent thanks to this click-bait title. I sure am a sucker for clickbait, reason number seven will blow your mind! “Plans to force low-performing universities to drop their fees will create a cycle of decline that traps poor students and damages their life chances.” – Oh, so off to a great start, I assume from this that students from poor family backgrounds only go to poor universities and so get trapped doing poor people work and the ever rolling wheel of being poor keeps rolling!? I also assume that people from poor families are not allowed to go to more prestigious and thusly more expensive universities? I also assume that people from poor family backgrounds cannot climb the class ladder through good education and hard work? I must be a darn fool to assume such assumptions.

According to the Government’s latest education white paper, universities in the UK are failing their students. Their graduates are unable to find good jobs, the teaching their students receive is poor, and universities still favour the privileged in their admission processes.

Let’s analyse these three points, that graduates can’t find good jobs, they’re receiving poor teaching and universities favour the privileged.

Well, The Independent, I do believe you wrote a piece last August about how graduates can’t find good jobs. In this piece it was detailed how there are too many graduates and too few graduate jobs, that Tony Blair set an “arbitrary target that 50% of young people should attend university” – no ifs, no buts. This is presented as a problem because “when half the country has a degree, the chances of most of them earning relatively high incomes is correspondingly diminished”. Thankfully though, your article says that “[O]ne of the few good things about university tuition fees is that some market discipline will start to be applied, and for the wider good. Students who probably won’t get that much out of university will be deterred from applying.” I’m assuming, yet again, that your qualms with this new league table of tuition fees that is being applied is that the wrong students are being deterred from University. You’re assuming only poor students will be deterred, rather than those who won’t benefit. I would like to know why you think only poor students would be deterred.

It also appears that The Independent has covered the story of poor university teaching standards before:

A survey of 3,400 students by an organisation called Student Hut, which allows students to rate and review their courses online, shows that almost a fifth (19.6 per cent) feel that teaching standards at their university are “poor” and should be improved.

In addition, a similar number (20.8 per cent) believe that there is not enough extra support or care for students outside of the lecture hall.

This requires no explanation.

For the third and final point, universities favour the privileged in their admission processes. In fact, it was found that pupils from state schools are much more likely to be admitted to a Russell Group university with B and C grades than their privately educated peers. Wait, what? Doesn’t that contradict the original argument!? Oh well, I guess that happens of an occasion.

Luckily, in your next paragraph you make an attempt to back yourself up by saying “[T]hat is certainly the case; the statistics bear it out”, even though you did provide no citations.

But the cure that the Conservatives propose for these ailments – the free market – amounts to a misdiagnosis of the illness. The idea that market forces can be relied upon to promote social mobility through education is a dangerous myth.” What if social mobility isn’t the direct goal here, but is instead an expected by-product of the end goal which is actually to improve the quality of teaching at universities? So if the quality of teaching were to be improved across the board would you argue that this is wrong?

The new Teaching Excellence Framework, to be announced in the Queens Speech later this week, will starve poorly performing colleges and universities of much-needed investment through research funding. Rather than offering a helping hand to failing institutions, the Government will kick them to the curb.” Haven’t they just had four years of tripled tuition fees though? Also, maybe these universities are failing not because of money but because the universities themselves are not very good. You don’t repair a sinking ship in the middle of the ocean, you abandon and seek the shore.

Conversely, and at the same time, institutions that already meet the highest standards of academic research on the global stage – the top performing academic institutions – will be able to raise their fees.” Good, if a service provider is providing an excellent service they should rightly charge more for it. Like how branded products cost more in the shops than the store’s own brand, you are paying for quality. This is how markets work.

Whichever way you look at this, the poorest are hit the hardest.” What! How? How did you come to this conclusion? It is not explained in any of the following paragraphs! A measly reference to the “bank of mum and dad” is referenced as if that is the be-all and end-all for this argument! Really, students from poorer family backgrounds won’t go to more expensive universities because they are from poorer backgrounds? So do their student loans amount to nothing? Do scholarships no longer exist? I’m assuming the universities also now refuse to support gifted students that walk the halls of their campuses because they are nothing but mere, dirty commoners!? Pah, peasants!

These universities do not ask for money up front from the students, it is all handled by student loans. Student loans are also means-tested, so those from poorer backgrounds are given more. They don’t even have to pay it back until they are earning enough money. Let’s take a look at how much they end up paying back, let’s see how these poor students will suffer.

You only start paying back your student loan once you are earning £21,000 a year or more, when that criteria is met you pay back 9% of what you earn over said £21,000. So essentially, you are guaranteed to not have any earnings under £21,000 a year touched by student loans repayments. If you’re earning £26,000 a year, you’ll pay £450 in loan repayments per annum or £37.50 each month. If your earnings drop below £21,000, your repayments will stop. Hardly much, is it?

A recent Sutton Trust report shows that students unable to rely on the ‘bank of mum and dad’ to fund the cost of their studies are put off the idea of university. They are also more likely to attend a local institution, even if they have the entry grades to gain a place at a higher-performing university that happens to be located further from the family home.” Is the back of mum and dad really that necessary? No, in fact nearly two-thirds of students work part-time to help fund their studies. Or is the implication that students from poor family backgrounds are incapable of getting jobs? Also, 62% of those students will spend their wages socialising, so I guess saving up for a rainy day is not that high on their list of priorities?

We are moving towards an environment where we simply accept that poor students will receive a second class higher education, whatever their academic aptitude.” So a gifted and talented student will be turned away because they are a plebeian? Really? Is that the narrative being argued here? Ahem, citation needed.

Imagine this situation: a university is rewarded for providing excellent services with an increase in funds, through an increase in tuition fees. This enables the university to hire more staff and to expand their campus which means that more students are able attend and receive this superior education. A student, from poor family backgrounds, gets good enough grades to enrol, is given student loans, support from the university and gets a part time job. This student does well at university, graduates and enters a high-paying job, thus climbing the class ladder. Through this high-paying job the student loan is paid back and more students attend university.

And so it goes on and on, a self-perpetuating cycle of social mobility and growth within the nurturing walls of our universities.

Maybe that situation didn’t cross the original authors mind? I highly doubt it. Luckily the comments of the article called out the inherent stupidity found within it. Allow me to quote one such comment:

I have yet to hear of a student who is offered a place at university failing to get a student loan to pay the fees.” The only times failure or difficulty occurs is during the bureaucracy, when papers aren’t filled or filed correctly. Not because of so-called “class-warfare”.

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