Monday, 15 November 2010

What will put poor kids off going to uni? A fairer funding scheme, or media hyperbole?

I was talking to my mother about student protests the other night and she said an interesting thing.

"When they first brought fees in, I really worried that you wouldn't be able to afford to go to university. But you did, and I couldn't believe it when I found out you didn't have to pay up front."

 In 1998, she'd listened to the protestors complaining that fees would put poor students off university, and knowing we were a poor family, she worried. In actual fact, because we were poor we got a lot of help and I was able to go to a Russell Group uni without paying anything up front. I have a fairly large student loan I am paying off now, but it's essentially like extra tax.  Indeed, one might almost say it is like a graduate tax.

My point is that now, as in 1998, the thing that is going to put off poor kids going to university is NOT the new funding schemes.  The thing that is going to put them off is ridiculous media hyperbole about graduating with massive debts. Perhaps the new scheme does put you in debt, but believe me there is a gigantic difference between debt that accumulates mortgage-style interest and that you start paying back mortgage style the month after you graduate, and debt that is only paid back once you earn above a certain income, otherwise it gets cancelled. I remember whinging about my loans at uni and being sharply rebuked by an American friend. Quite.

Not only that, but poor students will pay LESS under this scheme than they are at the minute.  The repayment threshold has gone up to 21k from 15.  The people who will really suffer under this scheme are the middle and upper classes, which is why I guess they were all out in force protesting against it.  Let's just be clear about that though, and not have any nonsense about this plan being anti-poor people. If you care about the poor getting a university education, then you have a responsibility not to wilfully misrepresent this plan by claiming it is a wrecking ball to the life chances of the young. I will blog a bit more later about how this will affect the sorts of sixth formers I teach.

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