I didn’t go on the NUS protest against the rise in tuition fees in 2010.
With impending cuts to the block teaching grant, £9k fees were, and remain, a necessity. The new system is a far better deal for students than the old, with Government likely to be the biggest loser, both financially in the long-term, and politically in the short. The suggested decline in applications from students from less advantaged backgrounds was avoided according to Will Hutton’s Independent Commission on Fees. Ok, so applications from over 25s fell, but NUS should be relieved ahead of Wednesday’s Demo – after all that’s about finding employment and educational opportunities for young people.
But don’t get me wrong, I’m not the biggest fan of the Government’s reforms to the sector. For one, they’re economically self-defeating. For another, the half-baked attempt to force competition into the system (after everyone set fees at the upper limit) through student quota changes have instead resulted in uncertainty, volatility and financial insecurity.
But it’s not a surprise that the Government have ploughed on with changes. The National Union of Students is a largely self-serving institution, with temporary leadership, grandiose and desperate to find work in the political world. Very few students feel represented (or are even bothered that they’re represented) on a national scale by NUS. They have no direct influence on its policies or leaders. Students are better represented by their student’s union on the local issues that directly affect them on campus as unions like our own in Leeds has shown. And governments know this. It’s an ignorable institution, a useless lobbying machine – proven no more so than by the last demo, when even the public were given the impression students were just riotous troublemakers.
So, it may surprise you that I’ll be joining current students from Leeds and colleagues from Leeds University Union in London on Wednesday.
Not against tuition fees. Not particularly against privatisation of the sector. A lot of my reasoning for going stems from being 8 months or so away from teacher training. One of the most important motivators of education is that not only does it drive the national economy, but that it has tremendous benefit to the financial, social, medical and intellectual wellbeing of the individual. This Government’s, policies are placing limits and restraints on this idea.
The scrapping of EMA was a more important cause to protest about in 2010. It was a winnable battle. But it was sidelined by 9k fees, and arguably has had a far bigger impact on restricting access to universities and to the workplace post-A-level than tuition fees. So much so, that in his most recent report, Alan Milburn has called for its reintroduction [or, rather a university-funded version].
The rhetoric from Michael Gove on the need to reform A-levels and GCSEs only serves to devalue a exam system which is broadly fit for purpose. Universities and business alike think that A-levels do not need wholesale reform. Yet it is still being investigated by Ofqual and the DfE. GCSEs are going to be replaced by an essentially identical qualification from 2015, on the basis that they’re not adequately preparing kids for post-16 work. But simultaneously, the compulsory education age is rising to 18. Why not scrap the GCSE altogether and consider a Tomlinson-style alternative as widely supported within and outside the sector? The situation we’re in now means that when I begin teaching in 2013, the kids will be studying as the penultimate cohort of GCSE students. They’ll have picked up that the qualifications they’re trying to get are considered worthless, what kind of motivation will they have?
It also means that employers *think* their qualifications are worthless too. It’s been happening for a long time, hence why I think youth unemployment is so high. Employers are reluctant to train up new younger staff because they think it will be harder. In fact, young people are probably better placed to work in businesses than their older counterparts given the rapid rate of technological advance in the last 20 years. 16-25 year olds have grown up with computers and technology and can make far more effective, productive and inventive use of it within a 21st Century business.
I’ll be looking for answers on international students, on postgraduate funding, continued and increased funding in university-based research in science and the arts – concerns shared by universities and students alike.
Governments, past and present, focus too much resource on the over 50s, whether that be free bus passes, heating or TV licenses. It’s political suicide to threaten to take those away now. Labour are to blame for that. At their expense are the young people who fail to complete their education because of financial restraints, fail to compete in the job market because they don’t have suitable careers guidance and who will ultimately fail to pay for the pensions of the future because income tax and national insurance revenue will be too low.
Wednesday is, at least for me, about calling on the Government to think about the long-term prosperity of the county and the shorter-term successes of its young people. Readdressing its policy and fiscal priorities so that our generation has a productive future rather than just paying for the past.
I hope to see you there.
The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) has today released the latest statistics for the number of applications made to UK universities, and as previous months stats have shown fewer people are applying than last year. UCAS and universities have rightly pointed out that even with just two weeks left before the January 15th deadline, it is still too early to tell what the final figures will be. What’s more, more students applied last year to avoid the hike to £9,000-a-year tuition fees, so comparison with 2010 entry is a much better benchmark.
Despite these valid caveats we are warned by unions, the shadow Universities minister Shabana Mahmood and journalists and commentators of every political persuasion (Guardian’s Jessica Shepherd, BBC’s Angela Harrison, Telegraph’s Graeme Paton) that some part of society is being put off by the higher fees. It is generally concern for those from less-affluent backgrounds that is heard the most. Whilst I’m no advocate of such heavy contributions from graduates, nor of the mass overhaul of Education Maintenance Allowance, it seems that applications from the group which we are most concerned about – school-leavers – are still as strong as ever.
So how did I reach that conclusion and why is no one pointing it out?
Well, the numbers are straight forward. Whilst, the overall number of applicants for courses starting this September is down 6.4% on 2011 entry, the number of 18 year-olds (or those who will be 18 when they start university) applying has only fallen by 1.8%. Our ageing population is almost constantly talked about in the media, so it won’t surprise you to learn that there will be fewer 18 year olds living in the UK in 2012 than in 2011. According to this Freedom of Information request made back in 2009, there will be more than 10,000 fewer 18 year-olds by the end of June 2012, than the 769,591 there were in June 2011. That’s a fall of 1.3%. So most of the drop in applicants straight from school is actually attributable to a smaller youth population and is nothing to do with the new fees regime. Furthermore the final 0.5% could be due to the drop in applications from the EU.
The great news is that young people still within the UK education system want to stay on in the UK education system, even if it does cost more than what their siblings, cousins or friends paid. They are still persuaded of the worth behind a degree, a life at university, and the skills and knowledge which will set them apart from non-graduates in the job market. It means that even those with difficult backgrounds, whether that be financial, social or cultural, know they can help themselves out of difficult circumstances by going to university.
Why hasn’t anyone reported this side of the story? Well, it’s not what anyone expected. The picture painted by the media on the effects of trebling fees has already been framed and hangs proudly in the gallery. Outrage at Browne, protests at Millbank, umming-and-arring by ministers, no-confidence votes by academics, why spoil it by saying “Hey, it ain’t all bad”? After all, good news doesn’t sell.
And, I suppose there’s still the other age groups……….really?
19 year-olds – applications down, largely because everyone cancelled their gap years.
20-24 year-olds – applications down. Why would anyone in this range pay £9k now when they could have paid three on leaving school?
25-29 year-olds – applications down. Comfortable, albeit unenjoyable, job, rent to pay, deposit to save for, weddings and babies to spend on, take three years out to study English? No thanks.
30-39 year olds – applications down. See above. Change weddings and babies to divorces and teenagers.
40 and over – Applications down. Risky move, changing career at this stage, though they are probably more likely to die before paying off their student loans.
The main focus of attention for society should be on those leaving school this September. They will be the ones finding it most difficult to find work, and if they go to uni they’ll end up as highly-educated graduates in jobs paying their student loans off at a rate less than I do now. I know which option I’d take, and I’m glad that most school-leavers have taken it.
Update: Just as I published this post I catch sight of Chris Cook’s piece in the FT saying what I’ve just spent an hour writing. Sound journalism once again, sir. Read it here (Behind paywall, though definitely worth a purchase in the morning)
Jessica Shepherd writing in the Guardian on Tuesday reported on (amongst other worrying trends) an increase in the number of careers advisors being made redundant or forced in to working fewer hours. With the Connexions service shelved and careers guidance absorbed into the remit of schools, I find it hard to believe that no one in the Department for Education saw this coming.
My often-stated dislike (and most others’, for that matter) of Connexions was an easy excuse for its axing. Giving schools the money to recruit their own careers guidance professional is a good idea…but oh wait, that didn’t happen. Instead teachers were given a smaller budget but asked to cover the reponsibility. So it is not surprising that the schools’ money was spent on those things that teachers (and their funders, the local education authorities) feel are priorities – resources to teach. After all there would be greater outrage if there was a sharp increase in the number of teachers being laid off.
I’d be interested to see if academies and free schools have a greater tendency to ignore the need for professional careers advisors throughout secondary education. One would hope that greater autonomy gives schools the impetus to be creative in their practices, perhaps recruiting a careers professional over a teacher or teaching assistant.
Carol James of the Careers Education and Guidance Association writes in today’s Guardian to challenge this new funding arrangement. But her voice and the voices of other careers professionals who have made this argument sound more concerned about their jobs. I’m sure that they are as equally concerned about the jobs their pupils won’t get, but there needs to be a greater, less involved champion of careers advice for under 18s, much like Martin Lewis is to financial education.
There are too few connections made between the lack of decent careers advice to other much larger problems, like crime, unemployment or the riots over summer. Would there be a greater emphasis placed on face-to-face careers advice if schools were benchmarked against the employability (or crime rates) of their pupils? Perhaps if councils were given responsibility(and the budget) for paying benefits, would they feel a greater need to keep their young people off JSA.
The extension of the National Curriculum review is an example of the long-term thinking that is so important in governance. Scrapping careers advice is its ugly short-term, money-saving antipode that really damages our education system.
The government has got into yet more controversy over student tuition fees by attempting to introduce what it calls a progressive system to pay back loans. Essentially, they want to limit how quickly graduates can pay off their student loans. What the current system shows is that rich students pay back their loans quicker and so accrue less interest than poorer students. Those from poorer backgrounds tend to never pay the debt completely back, and pay increasing amounts because of interest. With the introduction of above inflation interest rates this problem will get worse.
The government launched a consultation yesterday to hear the opinions of students, parents, universities and other interested parties on their plans to introduce penalties for early repayment. Their plans include charging a levy on any payments made above the amount paid through the PAYE tax system. The proposals put forward are either aimed at people who pay back large amounts, or who earn large amounts. BIS wants to know which is best, suffice it to say, the people have spoken. Here is my twopence:
Firstly, it is illegal to place early repayment penalties on traditional loans from banks. So however the government plans to do this, they’ll have to change the law. This particular piece of legislation won’t stand up to much. The government has just cut billions from public spending to reduce the amount of borrowing it has to do. In the same vain, the government are encouraging people to live within their own means, borrowing responsibly. So it is downright hypocritical that they want to penalise people for paying off their debts.
Oh but wait it’s not a debt….
Well, with the introduction of RPI + 3% interest, it IS a debt. I don’t consider my own student loan as a debt because the interest follows inflation. But the future loans system mimics banking loans and so early repayment should be encouraged.
Secondly, the government is shooting itself in the foot by penalising early repayment. Their own statistics suggest the majority of people will never pay off the full amount. So the government will end up footing the bill. People who pay it all back early will be saving the government money. The government should welcome early repayment, particularly as we shouldn’t be borrowing too much…
The final point it is important to make is that any penalty will only affect high earners or people who pay back large amounts. The whole point of this system is to help people from poor backgrounds. What if someone from a poor background goes on to a £100,000 a year job and decides to pay back their loans? Not really that helpful to charge them is it?
This proposal is poorly thought through from beginning to end, doesn’t do what it is aimed to do and penalises people for responsible behaviour.
If you want to say your piece you can find the consultation here.
Have a good weekend.
Earlier today, the liberal think tank The Centre Forum published a report written by Chris Paterson on the impact of parenting on education and in turn social mobility. The research behind the report is very secure. The psychological evidence of how children’s brains develop in the early years, between birth and 5 years, is quite clear. The social research into parental involvement and encouragement on behaviour and acheivement in school is certain. Yet whoever wrote the BBC News piece musn’t have read it.
The outcome of the paper is a proposal based on the success of the 5-a-day fruit and veg campaign. Instead of fruit the campaign should, it is suggested by Paterson, encourage parents to meet five criteria with their young children daily:
1. Read to children for 15 minutes
2. Play with children on the floor for 10 minutes
3. Talk with children with the television off for 20 minutes
4. Have a positive attitude with your children and praise them regularly
5. Give children a nutritious diet
Paterson didn’t come up with these off he top of his head. If you had only seen the television news though this is what you’d think. You might say they’re obvious. You might say that parents know what’s best for their children and do these things already. You’d be surprised then.
The vox pops interviewed in the piece couldn’t have been any more middle class, just the group that Paterson showed already do these things. Paterson’s report is on social mobility. This parenting “guide” is to make it more normal for parents to get advice on parenting, it’s designed to highlight to everyone how important their interactions are with their children’s development. Not that that was explained in the news report.
The scariest evidence I read was that over the course of a 4-year period, children in homes with professional parents hear 45 million words during this time. Children with unemployed parents hear just 13 million. This wasn’t mentioned in the report, nor was the fact that Paterson’s suggestions were based on scientific evidence.
And just to kick off the Daily Mail readers the BBC quickly dropped in that Paterson suggested paying poor people to follow this plan for their kids. I told you they hadn’t read it. Paterson in fact suggested that parenting classes be universally available and that in order to solve the social mobility problem parents with low-income could be incentivised to attend by conditional cash transfers (ie. extra child benefit) for attending these classes and acting on the information offered. People parent like their own parents, so children with bad parents become bad parents. Paterson’s classes and campaign are designed to break this cycle.
Paterson’s paper is an interesting read and I hope that the government listen and more importantly act on some of its proposals. Unfortunately the media portrayal conforms to Paterson’s own concern that people would perceive it as nanny-state or patronising. You can find the paper here.
Tomorrow I’ll post my response to the consultation by Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) on early repayment in the new student loans system. Safe to say I’m not happy with their leading questions.