Girl, Interrupting

October 27, 2010

Increased student fees are not the erosion of a welfare state

But rather an opportunity..
fee increases can be beneficial to both students AND universities if done the right way

Student fees are set to increase from around £3,290 to, maybe, as the Browne report recommended, up to £14,000….

So many people find this appalling, especially those who were educated in Britain for no personal expense (or even paid something by the state) back in the day. But that was then and this is now.

There are several arguments as to why the state SHOULD pay for higher education. One of them is that state funded education leads to a more equal social model, where access across all social classes, regardless of familial income, is dependent only on ability, without any bias towards the rich. There is a fear that introducing higher student fees will basically screw the poor, e.g. less well-off students will be able to afford a higher education regardless of their ability.

However, even in the current supposedly more equal higher education model, poorer students are still at a relative disadvantage. Even though there has been a recent increase in the number of poor students who attend university in the UK, there is still disproportionate number of wealthier students at UK Universities. Such as Oxford and Cambridge, who, according to the Guardian only accepts about 1% of the poorest students. This is due in a large part to the fact that those from poorer backgrounds don’t have the same secondary school opportunities as richer public school students. Able students don’t always have the opportunity to be educated in an appropriate manner to allow them to even get into university.

In the 1970’s a much smaller percentage of students even attended university than do today, a much smaller percentage. The increase in student numbers reflects an increase in opportunity across socio-economic classes but also reflects the lack of opportunity in other available employment. But the bottom line is that with increasing student numbers in higher education, someone has to pay for it and there is a limit to what any government can pay, however socially minded.

But I think that rather than being an entirely negative thing, student fees could mean hope for the future, if done correctly, increase the educational opportunities for poorer students

1 – higher student fees University could increase the money available to make secondary schools better leading to a better chance for students from poor backgrounds (who tend to live in poor compulsory school districts) to be competitive to attend university.

2 – a fee increase means that Universities have MORE money, and MORE money means (if managed correctly) more places for students. I recently attended a talk in Parliament by Ben Wildavsky of the Kauffman Foundation and author of the book The Great Brain Race who noted that the increase in student fees at University of California, LA (UCLA) has actually led to an increase in the number of students from poor background not a decrease.

As a side note increased ‘private’ money for Universities leads to a decrease of state control, so that on a whim the state can’t decide, as this current government has, to only fund STEM subjects and not the arts. Giving Universities more control of this decision, might redress the problem.

3 – If universities implement a smart financial model NOW, such as using microfinance model similar to Kiva, like the Vittana foundation or using scholarship programs that help those who can’t afford Universities easily, there could be more money available for those who need it the most.

I think rather than focusing on the negative effect for the money that the government is definitely NOT going to give to the Universities, we may – if we are careful about our financial models, create hope for the future with a better balance for the most able students attending the best Universities, regardless of their socioeconomic status.

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3 Comments »

  1. Thanks GI, well thought out and positive. Crisis are literally turning points and are often the start of something better not worse. This economic crisis can be a way of making things better if we respond to it with optimism rather than rant and cant. With the poor especially in the West, having got poorer over the last 40 years and the working population working longer and harder for less, what we do now can make that change – and for the better.

    Comment by Kevin Dontenville — October 27, 2010 @ 1:47 pm | Reply

  2. I get it.

    But it soudns pretty misguided…

    1 – higher student fees University could increase the money available to make secondary schools better leading to a better chance for students from poor backgrounds (who tend to live in poor compulsory school districts) to be competitive to attend university.

    — You surely don’t really believe this? The departments are very seperate now, and have their own budgets. And as we can see with BSF I don’t really believe it has had any effect…

    2 – a fee increase means that Universities have MORE money

    — Nope. Not at all. Alot will have less.

    and MORE money means (if managed correctly) more places for students. I recently attended a talk in Parliament by Ben Wildavsky of the Kauffman Foundation and author of the book The Great Brain Race who noted that the increase in student fees at University of California, LA (UCLA) has actually led to an increase in the number of students from poor background not a decrease.

    — I don’t think they were talking about that kind of jump or culture shift…

    3 – If universities implement a smart financial model NOW, such as using microfinance model similar to Kiva, like the Vittana foundation or using scholarship programs that help those who can’t afford Universities easily, there could be more money available for those who need it the most.

    — I’ll admit I don’t know enough here to comment.

    But pause for a moment…

    Comment by Alex — October 28, 2010 @ 10:43 am | Reply

    • 1 – I do realize that the budgets are entirely separate – I used the word ‘could’ because it well ‘could’ by a government that does things right –

      2 – if the uni’s manage their money right, yes it can! if there are more fee paying students (now there is a cap in each subject at each university) the Uni’s can take in MORE students. however you look at it the Uni’s will have money that is not connected directly to the government telling them how to spend it. The flaw in this reasoning I think is that it is dependent on Universities managing the money intake and student intake appropriately, this is the difficult part. And you can see easily how it might fail

      – I don’t think they were talking about that kind of jump or culture shift…
      A culture shift is what we need – I don’t understand your comment here actually, who is ‘they’

      3 – As per my caveat above, if the Uni’s manage the money correctly, they may well come out on top and may well be able to keep subjects alive that wouldn’t otherwise be so. If poorer students recieve loans (or more ideally grants) through either a 3rd party source or the uni itself, this might work…

      A change in the way uni’s are funded is needed! Why, because right now they are dependent on Gov’t funding and cannot easily weather the storm of budget cuts. A culture change could (emphasis on could) lead to more resiliant uni’s and greater access to uni’s. Uni’s have to start developing different financial models, or they will die a slow and painful death, benefitting no one.

      Comment by sylviamclain — October 28, 2010 @ 10:57 am | Reply


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