Monday, October 11, 2010

University tuition fees and widening participation

The Liberal Democrat wish to scrap tuition fees for university students never did fit comfortably with Labour'a ideal of expanding participation. Certainly, it is hard to see how this policy could be afforded if we reached the target of having 50 per cent of young people attending university. I, for one, was happy to support Liberal Democrat policy precisely because I was sceptical about the expansion of the university sector.

Labour would defend this expansion on the grounds that it is making university education to working-class youngsters who have not been able to benefit from it in the past. My impression, however - does anyone have any figures on this? - is that what happened over the Blair and Brown years was that progressively less academically inclined middle-class children found themselves attending university. I am less convinced that there was any noticeable improvement in the percentage of working-class children who got there.

What we face now, I fear, is increasing tuition fees and a fall in participation rates. More than that, we now have a university sector that behaves like any other industry. The Bowstring Bridge saga in Leicester, with which readers of this blog will be all too familiar, has shown De Montfort University behaving just like any other major local employer - a little too friendly with the council and a little too dismissive of the views of local residents.

Liberal Democrat MPs may yet resist a rise in tuition fees, but making universities behave more like universities and less like international corporations will be a far harder task.

No comments: