Is Education a Civil Right or an Elite Privilege?

Education Concept.Such is the debate in England right now, following an announcement, yesterday, that they government plans to permit elite universities to raise tuition rates.

Again.

British students are already struggling to cough up the £9,000 per year required for higher education. This, of course, leaves many students with more than £40,000 in student loans by the time they graduate, the highest in England (and among the United Kingdom).

And for those unfamiliar with the exchange rate, this equates to roughly $13,000 per year for a grand total of more than $55,000 by time a student graduates from university, in England.

The government claims, not surprisingly, that “student choice” and “competition” are two driving factors that won’t have any sort of influence on improved higher education initiatives. But how are they going to manage this?

Through the new Teaching Excellence Framework, which will be announced in the Queen’s Speech later this week, poorly performing universities and colleges in the region will be, basically, starved of crucial investments, typically through research funding (or, perhaps, lack thereof). To put it not-so-lightly, the government will, essentially, ignore these institutions instead of providing them with the kind of basic assistance that could help improve conditions.

But perhaps more importantly—and somewhat ironically—those institutions which already appear to meet or exceed the highest of national (and international, too?) standards will be able to raise their tuition fees in order to reap more money.

Of course, schools which excel deserve the right to earn more money, but all this really does is make it harder for poor students to attend. It does not exclude based on a student’s academic ability; instead this policy excludes based solely on the student’s ability to pay.

And a recent Sutton Trust report actually shows that many students who have the grades—but not the cash—will not even consider attending university simply based on money, alone. What’s more, it also looks like this plan will encourage those lesser-performing schools to cut their rates, thereby making them more attractive—and perhaps, truly, the only option—to poor students.

At the end of the day, of course, student unions and advocacy groups continue to argue—and fight—for the cultivation of a learning community not for the competition of a student market. It is an important distinction to make in this sensitive educational environment where professors and teachers and administrators deserve to earn a quality income for developing the mind’s of tomorrow’s leaders but where those would-be leaders also deserve to experience education in the present and reaping its benefits in the future without the undue burden of crippling debt.



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