Got AAB? Fancy a discounted degree?

In a farcical, but hardly surprising, turn of events, Sir Steve Smith, president of Universities UK, has suggested that the Government’s shake up of university education will likely result in financial incentives being offered to high achieving students regardless of their socio-economic background.

This admission comes in light of the Government’s desperate drive to create a market for higher education, which was marked by their recent white paper (ironically entitled – Students at the Heart of the System) that outlined plans for universities being able to offer unlimited places to students receiving AAB or better at A Level from September 2012.

The Government hopes that increasing market forces within higher education will result in universities embarking on a bidding war for students and subsequently lowering their fees in an effort to recruit the best students and gain access to essential funding. Notably, institutions that fail to secure as many top pupils as they currently do face losing their funding. Paving the way for frantic attempts to ensure this reality does not transpire, Sir Smith believes universities will start offering cut price tuition fees or bursaries in order to secure top students.

Obviously, this has potentially far-reaching ramifications. For one, many of these high achieving students will be placed under unnecessary stress as a result of desperately attempting to achieve AAB and consequently be opened up to a market of competitive universities, imploring them to select their institutions. God knows what kind of offers we could see in a few years time. Financial incentives are the tip of the iceberg people!

But to return to the point, due to vastly differing educational standards, there is little point denying that private school students are proportionally more likely than state school students to achieve AAB or better at A Level. Considering this, any plans to offer financial deals to high achieving students is identifiably a disastrous move for advocates of social mobility and likely to disproportionately benefit more fortunate pupils.

Graduation Day

As Gareth Thomas, shadow Universities Minister, said, “Money which might have been earmarked in the past to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds go to university is instead used to try and help recruit people with very good grades.”

Building on Mr. Thomas’ claims, in switching focus so absolutely from the poorest to the smartest, the Government have inadvertently created the possibility for many students to be abandoned in the new system, not seen to be worth a university’s time and effort. After all, the brutal funding cuts made to university budgets have left many institutions with little choice but to charge top rate fees and these developments will undoubtedly spur on universities to focus on recruiting the brightest pupils in large numbers to replace their funding gap.

In this case, overlooking less fortunate students, who are perhaps just below the AAB benchmark, becomes a small price to pay for the continued existence of an institution. Tragically, this once more illustrates how poor judgment by this Coalition government and stupendous oversight is managing to hinder the chances of some of the members of our society. And, while this happens AAB students are likely to become akin to gold dust, treasured by the educational system and offered the type of incentives that could lift others from disadvantaged backgrounds into futures full of prospects.

Kenneth Way.

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