Realpolitik (see also Political realism; from German: real “realistic”, “practical” or “actual”; and Politik “politics”) refers to politics or diplomacy based primarily on practical considerations, rather than ideological notions or moralistic premises. In this respect, it shares aspects of its philosophical approach with those of realism and pragmatism.
"Manchmal werden Leute den Wald vor lauter Bäumen nicht sehen."

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

020 - No education for the poor: How new higher education system will reverse social mobility

As part of one of the latest reforms to higher education, the universities minister David Willetts suggested that in order to free up subsidised places on courses for students from poorer economic backgrounds, their wealthier counterparts may soon have the opportunity pay more in return for receiving an offer from their preferred option. Candidates would still be required to achieve the entry requirements. Under the new proposals, such students may be expected to pay up to £12,000 a year for arts subjects, £18,000 for science subjects and £28,000 for medicine courses.

Given the increase earlier this year in standard university tuition fees from their current £3,290 for 2010/11 and £3,375 for 2011/12 to between £6,000 and £9,000 from September 2012, with most universities opting for the top level, the opportunity for rich students to buy places on courses can only ever be at the detriment to their less wealthy counterparts.

In a white paper expected to be announced in the summer, charities and employers would be asked to sponsor places whereby the student fees are higher than their peers, meaning that wealthy students may not have to front the cost of the increased fees themselves to gain their choice of course and university.

This is not the first time Mr Willetts has made radical suggestions about education policy. Earlier this year he was recorded stating that: 'as women on average earn less than men.. ..evaluations show that it is men who are going to pay back more than women..' and suggested that some women 'would never have to pay anything back' as they wouldn't ever be earning enough.

Such measures when seen in the wider picture of increasing tuition fees legislation which sets fees at almost treble their current levels from 2012 and cuts to education funding - which were met with several large scale protests as teachers and current and prospective students alike heavily criticised the political discourse surrounding the benefits of the measures - will undeniably and significantly harm the social mobility of students from poorer backgrounds. Students from poorer economic backgrounds may not only be disillusioned and dissuaded by a large debt on graduation, but must now contend with wealthier students having the privilege of being able to buy their way to their preferred destination.

More worryingly, this comes at the same time as a cut in 10,000 publicly funded university places. Such reversals of social mobility should not be allowed in a country that considers itself a fair and democratic society.

Mr Willetts has stated that there are still 'various important issues' surrounding 'off-quota' places that require attention before any such bill may be passed, though he defended his claim that this would free up subsidised places.

Whilst this is perhaps the case in a stable system, this view is ignorant of the fact that amidst an overall reduction in university places, allowing richer students to buy up some of the most competitive seats will inevitably result in fewer places and opportunities for poorer students to progress with their education. This in turn then disadvantages their opportunities in the employment sector. 200,000 are already expected to miss out due to cuts to funding.

Furthermore, this can only serve to allow further biases in the selection criteria and processes involved, particularly since universities most likely to adopt these measures are institutions who are already highly selective in determining a new cohort. Institutions such as Oxford University - renowned for its selective application process - have already been criticised for the lack of diversity in their admissions and the way their application processes disadvantage prospective students from poorer backgrounds.

Why are we not asking why charities and businesses are not made to sponsor poorer students instead, who could better benefit from the financial assistance as they may be less able to as quickly pay off any debt incurred for HE study?

It is difficult to see how such egalitarian and elitist legislation could aid social mobility when viewed as part of the wider spectrum of cuts and fee increases. Even if such off quota places for wealthy students were to subsidise places for their poorer counterparts, this would still fail to take into account the overall fall in places initiated by cuts to fiscal policy. To damage social mobility would be not only undemocratic and unconstitutional, but would also regress the education system beyond any state of immediate repair.

- sandlefish -

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