Admittedly, Exeter is a middle class, conservative and frankly-posh university. One need not look further than the students using MacBooks as coffee trays, eating elderflower and prosecco crisps and discussing their estates at nightclubs. Nevertheless the uni is accessible to students from every walk of life. I myself am no boarder or private school alumnus and I have never felt anything less than welcome here, but a rise in fees for elite universities such as Exeter would surely change that fact.
I am of course discussing the new Conservative Green Paper, released in November, which would allow Universities of higher quality to charge over the current cap of £9000 annually. This initiative is intended to address variability between universities wherein students do not get a degree of equal quality whilst paying the same amount of money. An Ofsted-style evaluation system would be implemented to grade universities and their different departments from 1 to 4 using surveys on students, post-degree employment and degree completion rates.
Allowing ‘better’ universities to charge more would create a culture of elitism and a two-tiered education system. The culture already exists in some respects – jibes at Plymouth University on Yik Yak are rife. The government’s proposed changes would only further alienate students from those schools deemed inadequate by the state but force those from deprived backgrounds to go to ‘lesser’ universities, suggesting they’re undeserving of the top universities.
In an ideal society no-one should pay for education but having to pay more because you want the best for yourself in the future seems a punishment rather than a reward for aiming high and working hard. The Conservatives staunchly defend the rise in fees, arguing that the more young people are going on to further education now than ever before. Conversely, social mobility is lower than it was in the 30s. The Green Paper fails to address the failing number of part-time students after the rise in fees brought in by the last Government, as naturally, these people with prior commitments like employment or family are the least likely to pursue higher education and are consequently disadvantaged. The burden of higher fees may therefore prove too much.
Instead of excluding working class students from attending these select universities, creating a higher education system that caters for the elite, the government could release guidelines and offer grants or official recognition to ‘better’ universities, which would actually be of value to students and encourage institutions to self-reflect and strive for a higher standard.
Think for a moment of the diverse people you have met while at University, and imagine hat diversity scrapped in favour of gross homogeneity, a segregation within universities.