A Department for Education report has shown that the number of young people going to university from state schools has dropped with the rise of tuition fees to £9,000 per year.
The government is facing call to re-examine student finance after statistics showed that the number of state school pupils going on to higher education in 2013/14 dropped to 62% from 66% the previous year. Taking a longer term view and the figures are even less promising – the 2009 / 10 academic year saw 71% of state-educated children going on to higher education by age 19.
Losing maintenance grants
This report has coincided with the government replacing maintenance grants with loans for the poorest students, leading shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner to say the government were “slamming the doors” on talented students from lower income backgrounds.
By comparison, independent schools continued to see 85% of their pupils go on to higher education, showing that, for those who could afford it, the tuition fee rise seemed to make little difference.
Indeed, the disparity was even greater when it came to the most selective universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, where the number of state school educated students has remained the same at just 23%.
Tuition Fee Increases
Tuition fees were originally introduced under Tony Blair’s government in 1998, although it was then set at £1,000 per year, which rose to £3,000 per year under new legislation in 2006. However, student protests were sparked when this figure was tripled under the Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition to £9,000 in 2010.
While the government points to UCAS data which says young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are still 65% more likely to go into higher education than they were 10 years ago, these latest figures may show this trend starting to reverse.
Equality Of Opportunity?
The education minister, Jo Johnson has admitted that more work needs to be done to create “a society that works for everyone”, adding, “everyone in our country should be allowed to rise as far as their talents will take them, whoever they are and wherever they’re from.”
However, Johnson’s equal from the Labour party, Angela Rayner, countered, “It doesn’t take a genius to work out that by tripling tuition fees to £9,000 a year, the Tories have put a huge barrier to higher education in the path of students from low and middle-income families,” asserting, “It’s all very well for Jo Johnson to say more needs to be done – but rather than scrapping maintenance grants this week, the government needs to look again at the whole question of student finances.”
This apparent disparity of opportunity between state and independent school leavers was also highlighted by Janet Clark, education policy adviser at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, who said, “Many young people who have experienced their families’ financial struggles as children will be wary of taking on such a huge burden of debt.”
Elsewhere, Sutton Trust chairman, Peter Lampl said, “The reality is the cost of going to university in England has become so expensive that it may now be a deterrent for many young people from non-privileged homes.”
The National Union of Students have also hit out in light of these latest figures, saying, “For a government that talks the talk on social mobility, it needs to seriously consider the effect its market reforms are having on higher education participation,” stating, “The cutting of grants to the poorest students and further increases in tuition fees proposed down the line are sending a message to many families that university isn’t for people like them.”
With government ministers having pledged to increase the chance of those from poorer backgrounds to go to university this latest report makes sobering reading. Added to this are plans to increase tuition fees further, while many young people are already admitting that the prospect of around £50,000 of debt upon graduation is enough to make them consider alternative options.
While this bodes well for alternative career paths such as apprenticeships, there is a concern that the UK is losing out on the potential talents of many young people just because of their financial background.
With England already having by far the highest tuition fees of any English-speaking nation in the world, it will be interesting to see how the government reacts to this latest report and if it causes a rethink on increasing tuition fees further.