Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Pulling up the ladder

Neil Woollcott has written about the opportunity to go to University he was given by the grants system and the wider opportunity this has given him in life.

Like him I was lucky to benefit from the grants system. From memory I received about 75% of the full grant with my parents topping up the rest.

I was the first person in my family to go to University, and only able to do so because of the grants system and the change in attitudes that happened as a result of the expansion of the Universities post-war.

Both my parents were intelligent enough to have gone, as was my Grandad, but the option simply wasn't open to them.

The result of this expansion, and the change of attitude that went with it, was that University became something that anyone could aspire to, and, if they could get the grades, could afford to go to. Previously it had been the preserve of the upper and upper middle classes.

The knock on effect (along with other social reforms) has been a successful British economy which has expanded steadily since the war, and the creation of a generally wealthier and better educated society.

Indeed the Government's own figures suggest that graduates, on average, earn significantly more than average during their subsequent careers, and, as a consequence, pay far more extra income tax than their education cost.

It is therefore shameful, stupid and unfair that the Labour Government, having promised not to, has embarked on a programme of massively increasing student debt to fund further expansion, rather than seeing it as a public investment in the country's future.

It is shameful because the majority of the Labour MPs who walked into the lobbies in support of the policy would not have had the opportunities they have had in life had it not been for the opportunities afforded to them by a free university education.

It is stupid because it will skew the University intake against those who are put off by debt rather than being based on merit. It will also have massive knock on effects due to ever rising graduate debt, bankruptcies and the rest.

It is unfair because those people who end up earning less, perhaps because they become a teacher or social worker, will end up paying more in actual terms and significantly more as a proportion of their income.

If the policy is not changed very soon Britain will be paying the price for this short-termism for decades to come.

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