Dave Osler mourns the Golden Age of University Grants. Why not free education ?
From my first day as a five-year-old at Avenue Road Infants’ School to my final postgraduate seminar at the London School of Economics, my education was free all the way. Not only that, but for the last five years of it, I was accorded state support at a level comparable to a low-wage job.
That is a large part of the explanation of how the son of a railwayman and a nurse from a two-up two-down eventually landed a well-paid career in journalism. But posh kids got more or less the same deal, save for a reduced level of grant to reflect their parents’ prosperity.
In the 1960s, the 1970s and into the monetarist 1980s, the idea that this way of doing things would ever change substantially would have been unthinkable. Free education was an essential aspect of the social democratic settlement.
Surely that Golden Age never existed, did it? He'll be saying crime was lower next.
Laban feels inclined to chip in, as Dave seems genuinely puzzled as to why we can't afford such goodies any more. He obviously didn't do Advanced Arithmetic at LSE :
You do have to wonder exactly how we got here. Was it conspiracy, or was it cock-up? It’s usually the latter.
1930s – only the top 2-3% could get a free university grant – and many working families with bright kids were just too poor even to get that far. My mother, a very clever girl, and all her siblings had to leave school at 16 to bring some money in. My father-in-law’s folks had just enough dosh to get him through sixth form, and he ended up a senior academic.
But only a small elite got to uni. There was enough money for free tuition AND grants for the poor.
An important difference between the UK and other countries was that “In England and Wales the majority of young full-time university students attend universities situated a long distance from their family homes; this is not true for universities in most European countries, such as Italy or Spain”. This was to have a major cost impact as the number of universities grew, and as teacher training institutions and polytechnics took more and more students who weren’t living at home.
1950s-70s – the Golden Age (which of course never existed). Enough prosperity for a clever working class kid to stay on at grammar school and do the UCCA round as was. A few more universities (the redbricks, Warwick, Essex, Sussex etc) but still only 5% or so went to uni, so free tuition for all, and maximum grants for, say, the son of a primary teacher. Maybe a few more % at Poly or Teacher Training – still enough cash to go round. 10% of school-leavers now?
Early 1990s – the cloud no bigger than a man’s hand, as the Tories discover that new universities are incredibly easy to create – new headed notepaper, a few signs outside the buildings, and Leeds Poly becomes the Metropolitan University of Leeds, while the Breedon Bar in Cotteridge becomes the University of Central England. At the same time – and this is the killer – the Polys, which used to mainly cater for local students, become much more like universities in that they start competing nationally for students.
The 1980s and 90s also saw major expansion in University numbers – for example Leeds in the 70s was I think the biggest UK university with 9,000 students. Now 24,000. All these students were getting fees paid and most had grants pre-1997.
“As the university population rose during the 1980s the sums paid to universities became linked to their performance and efficiency, and by the mid 1990s funding per student had dropped by 40% since the mid-1970s, while numbers of full-time students had reached around 2,000,000 (around a third of the age group), up from around 1,300,000.” The fiscal strain of the massive expansion is beginning to tell.
30% of school leavers ?
1997 onwards – Labour go somewhat insane, proclaiming that 50% of school leavers should be at uni – i.e. anyone over average intelligence. Every teacher training college in the land becomes a university (no longer a live-at-home student body), and the school leaving age is raised to 18. Ironically, the main beneficiaries are the middle classes, who can now get their more average children through Uni. You find former Polytechnics which are now much more middle class than a university was 25 years previously.
As above, the financial strain of this idiotic ‘all must have degrees’ policy finally catches up. They HAVE to introduce loans and tuition fees, otherwise the 50% non-uni candidates are subsidising the top 50%.
And that’s how we got where we are. Utter madness, but that’s what happened. The question is, what of the future? Will any working class youth fancy three years at Uni with a 35K debt at the end of it, and no prospect of buying their own house until they’re 45 – if then ? Will the university bubble burst ?