Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Can we not have a student premium to go with the pupil one?

I'm happy to hear that the threshold for repayment will be rising annually rather than every 5 years. But the other announcement that the government will be paying the first year's fees for every student that received free school meals and that universities will pay for the third has left me rather befuddled. This measure might encourage the school leaver's attendance at university but it will only benefit their situation several years after they leave university if they are working in a well-paid job. This is a benefit tht will essentially be paid to a relatively affluent individual who 10-20 years ago used to be poor as they cease repayment earlier than they would have without the support. It is purely cosmetic and accepting of the ignorance that people have of the repayment plan.

What is worse, the requirement of the university to pay for the 3rd year discourages that university from taking on more disadvantaged students than is absolutely necessary to satisfy government's opaque requirements. Why would they want to take on poor people if they bring in less money? This will put an absolute limit to social mobility rather than encourage it.

The proportion of disadvantaged students going to the most selective universities remains poor (Chapter 2) and government plans are unlikely to significantly address this. One thing they could do is to impose an access levy so that the most selective universities get to keep more of the fee that they charge over £6000 as the average grant received by students at the university increases. Take in more disadvantaged students and you will receive more money. It's a student premium! Much better than the anti-student premium the government is proposing. Students will want to go to universities that keep as much of their fee for teaching as possible, so the economic pressures to admit an increasing number of disadvantaged students will be magnified. And from this research from the Sutton Trust it seems clear that that could be a good thing for the quality of the student intake as well