“It is reasonable to summarize the government's proposals for conditional loans deliberately discriminate against students from disadvantaged backgrounds.”
alexander Birch is a freelance journalist who writes about issues of class, disability, gender and culture.
Last week, The telegraph announced the Ministry of Education intends to limit student education loans to applicants who meet certain grade thresholds: No student loans for pupils who fail maths or English at GCSE. Another proposal being considered would be to bar students who do not achieve a minimum EE at A level from accessing student loan funding. The editor from the journal Education wrote the policy “would aim to limit the huge price of universities towards the taxpayer and crack down on shoddy degrees”.
Right-wing rhetoric about “Mickey Mouse degrees” is nothing new. Linking student education loans to grades would be. Such a policy would explicitly tell students whose qualifications fall below a collection threshold they don't should visit college (unless, of course, their parents can foot the bill).
With high tuition fees making student education loans essential for college students from disadvantaged backgrounds, putting barriers to loans will in the end hit them the hardest. Even if applicants from poor backgrounds had exactly the same degree of education as wealthier applicants, this is the case. But they do not. In this country, being born right into a wealthy family has long been one of the biggest determinants of your future academic success.
There is sufficient of evidence. Between 2009/10 and 2011/12 Oxford University reportedly accepted 3 times as numerous Eton College pupils as pupils receiving free school meals.
Forget Oxbridge: for college students from the poorest backgrounds, even succeeding in English and maths is a feat. In 2022, only 49% of children eligible for free school meals achieved GCSE levels 9-4 in English and maths (roughly equivalent to A*-C), when compared with 75% of pupils not entitled to free meals. Under conditions of poverty, the brightest student can be outmatched by their relatively mediocre privately educated counterpart, which is why the best university research supports contextual admissions for disadvantaged university applicants.
All of this considered, it's reasonable to summarize the government's proposals for conditional loans deliberately discriminate against students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Prior learning is a surprisingly poor predictor of school success and can't be utilized for a crude tool to exclude applicants who've experienced a disadvantage.
This is a deeply personal question for me personally, as a “non-traditional” university student. I received free school meals and took my GCSEs in a school which was in the country's worst-performing rankings.
When I put on UCAS, I didn't possess a C in math. This was aided by a type of learned helplessness which i had developed in response to being shown that I lacked perspective. I was the child of a “profit collector” (in the words of 1 of my peers), why bother?
Diane Reay's book The bad education is full of quotes from interviews with working-class students who express similar negativity regarding their own potential. Reading his work would be a revelation. I thought I was 'stupid'. I learned that I had been let down by a classist system in which poor youngsters are systematically underestimated: stereotyped from an earlier age as “thick”, “lazy”, even criminals.
Against all odds, I graduated with top class honors from the Russell Group university. Much from the credit goes to my woefully underfunded college, which took an opportunity on me admitting me for an Access course. If there was a policy in position within the mid-2010s that prohibited applicants without the required GCSE grades from getting student loans, I probably would happen to be averted from university.
My road to advanced schooling is virtually non-existent in the upper echelons of power, filled with men like our current Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi, who attended a personal school, similar to his predecessors. These politicians are deeply from touch using the realities of education in this country. I suspect that's why they can so easily feign concern for disadvantaged young people who're sold low-yielding degrees from lower-status institutions. Perhaps their detachment is what makes the outright exclusion of people who don't pass the right advanced schooling exams seem like an answer?
I have a few questions for politicians who support grade-dependent loans. Do you believe the first-generation student who does not get a graduate job after his old polytechnic degree gets that job because he wasn't smart enough to visit college? Do you actually believe, hand on heart, the degrees they are studying for lack value by themselves? Or is the real problem that working-class students largely visit working-class universities which are stigmatized accordingly by graduate employers? Could the problem be considered a rigid class system, instead of so many people entering advanced schooling?
Higher education is a good in itself. But diplomas are also essential to access many sectors. At a time period of soaring inflation and stagnating social benefits, the government's proposals threaten to grease Britain's already slippery social mobility ladder.