Quotas UK Style

I love living in the UK, but the article below highlights yet another stupid decision by the state. Specifically, they have threatened to cut research funding to the top universities if they don’t admit more students from poor families. Now really, how is that going to solve the education crisis this country is facing? Granted a few more economically disadvantaged students might get to go to Cambridge or Oxford, but that’s not going to solve the problems within the educational system. In fact, it might make some schools less competitive while at the same time increasing hostilities between the classes. As such, the government really needs to look for ways to improve the educational system at all levels so that students from lower economic standings get to university based on merit and are not just given token admittance.

Universities to get extra money for giving places to the poor
The London Times, November 21, 2006 , Alexandra Blair, Education Correspondent

Britain’s elite research universities were warned last night that they could forfeit millions of pounds in a shake-up of higher education.
David Eastwood, head of England’s university funding council, told The Times that, in future, universities that admit a large number of students from poor backgrounds were likely to receive as much public funding as those that concentrate on research. The shift will make it harder for middle-class students to get places at university.
At present almost a third (32 per cent) of all research funding goes to just five institutions: Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester, Imperial and University College London. These admit among the lowest number of students from poor backgrounds. They said last night that they feared they would have to fight harder for fewer funds and would struggle to compete with competitors, particularly in America.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) spends £6.7 billion on teaching and research in universities. Of this, £1.6 billion goes on research, £332 million on raising the number of working-class students attending university and £118 million on developing regional business links.

Professor Eastwood, its chief executive, said that as students pay higher fees and employers invest more in the sector, universities must play a greater role in society.
While insisting that research funding will not be cut, the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of East Anglia said that ensuring more young people attended university was as important as the take-up of subjects such as maths, engineering and physics.
“In some areas there is clearly a public interest in the ability of an institution to thrive in its locality and region because universitites are very often the key economic drivers and providers of civic and social capital,” Professor Eastwood said. “You can imagine a position in the next decade, where some institutions because of their location … have a significantly greater proportion of public funding than some other institutions which are thriving in a different part of the market.”
While universities have concentrated traditionally on teaching and research, Professor Eastwood said it was now time for institutions to work out what they were good at and act upon it. It was not possible for all universities to excel in all areas, he said, and instead of competing with the large research-led universities for diminishing returns, they should capitalise on excellent teaching and regional economic growth.
However, Malcolm Grant, Provost of University College London and chairman of the Russell Group of leading universities, said that while all would like to see the funding gap in teaching costs close, that gap was worst for research universities that compete globally for staff.
“While we applaud widening participation, it would seem sensible for Hefce to look at ways to allow our world-class universities to compete at an international level and not to tax research funding to cross-subsidise widening participation across the sector,” Professor Grant said.
Five universities are already involved in pilot projects, including Sheffield Hallam, which has been given £1.2 million to undertake research on food waste, packaging and better ingredients with companies in the region.
Forty-two per cent of 18 to 30-year-olds attend university and the Government has set itself a target of 50 per cent reaching that level by 2010. Since the introduction of £3,000-a-year tuition fees, the numbers applying to university have dropped, especially among poorer school-leavers.
The University of Reading’s decision last night to close its world-class physics department, despite the prospect of a government rescue package, was met with dismay by the scientific community.

2 Comments
  1. I just wanted to comment on what you said about enabling “students from lower economic standings get to university based on merit and are not just given token admittance.”
    I don’t think that attempts to give more students from lower economic standing access to a university education necessarily equates to giving them “token admittance”. I think that’s a false dichotomy.
    There are plenty of students who may have the merit, but not the money, and policies like these will hopefully help them, by providing the resources (via subsidies, grants, scholarships, loans, whatever) to pay their tuition fees and cover other associated costs.
    To me one of the interesting things about this effort to get more lower-income students into universities is that it follows on a recent decision to increase tuition fees (which led to a big drop in university enrollment). If the government wants more low-income students to go to university, was an across-the-board fee increase really the best idea?
    High-level policy decisions baffle me sometimes.

  2. My post may seem a bit insensitive, but I stand by it. Particularly as the policy, is geared towards getting a few schools to admit more students from poor backgrounds. And if we are really honest, they are really just talking about Oxford, Cambridge & Durham.
    And as I stated in the original post, while a few students will benefit, it’s not going to solve the greater problem of improving the educational system at all levels (primary, secondary & university). Furthermore, if these top schools are forced to increase the number of students just to maintain their research funding, at some point, the quality of the education offered at these schools will go down as resources will be stretched. Thus they need to look at ways of improving all schools instead of putting all the burden on a few. This policy is just a band-aid, it is not a long term solution.
    Furthermore, I think that people in the UK (even the poor) need to get over their feelings of entitlement. The fact of the matter is that the government can no longer pay 100% of the fees for all university students. Thus, students and parents alike need to embrace academic debt which in my opinion is not a bad thing as anyone who takes out such a debt is investing in their future.
    Plus maybe if more students had to contribute something to their university degree, they would take the whole thing more seriously. Going to university is a fun coming of age experience but more importantly its a necessary step for most people to improve their socio economic standing in life.
    And so if that is a serious goal, then one should be willing to put something towards that. Particularly as student tuition in this country is only 3000 pounds per year (roughly $6000). Even if a student has to pay in full for 3/4 years, that is still a small sum when you factor in how much getting a degree can improve ones socio-economic standing later in life — provided of course one takes full advantage of all that the university has to offer.

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