Clegg needs to back up his talk with action on education

11:30 am - August 20th 2010

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contribution by Aaron Porter

Whilst David Cameron is away Nick Clegg has seized his moment in the spotlight and made a speech espousing the Government’s commitment to social mobility and to decry a “poverty of opportunity”.

The Universities Minister, David Willetts, has said himself that 3,500 straight A students missed out on a university place last year, a situation that will only get worse.

The inevitable result of this is that applications will be judged on peripheral achievements only available to the privileged few – extra curricular activities, personal tutors, application coaching, etc.

But, placing an artificial cap on the number of places is likely to exclude those from less-affluent backgrounds first.

University must be open to all those who have the ability and the ambition. It must not be blocked by fear of mortgage-style debts foisted on young people as they start their careers, which the evidence suggests is more likely to deter poorer applicants.

Neither will this be achieved by savage funding cuts to universities or caps on the number of places, which bear no relation to the higher level skills the economy will need, or to an international context in which UK spending on higher education lags well behind the international average, and countries such as France and the United States.

Young people are currently caught in a perfect storm of already high unemployment, education cuts, a lack of education and training opportunities, and a lack of entry level jobs. The coalition government has done little to suggest that they are awake to the threat of a generation lost to a lack of opportunity and risk of being consigned to the dole queue with all the social and economic costs that entails.

The Government’s axing of the Future Jobs Fund and cuts to the education and training guarantees for young people do not bode well for my generation.

All Liberal Democrat MPs, including Clegg and Cable, have signed a pledge to oppose higher top-up fees and work for a more progressive system of university funding and if Nick Clegg is really committed to social mobility he will make sure that his government creates a fairly funded university system that has space enough for all those who have the ability and ambition to be part of it.

Investment in students and universities brings with it a multitude of returns, and the Government must recognise this. A generation of young people needs action rather than words from Ministers who profess to care about their plight.

Aaron Porter is President of the NUS

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Reader comments

They better sort out the employment, yesterday I was looking at job offers to suit cripples at the job center, and the advisor said do not bother we have six jobs in total.

The government is slowly destroying all hopes for my generation. So far I’ve been a straight A student (GCSE results next week so we’ll see then) but I know so many people that will simply be thrown aside by the system, unable to secure a place in education or employment. Forget slashing the deficit for one minute, what use is that if we don’t have a generation ready to pick up where our parents left off?

Three parties of Tories, Thatcher, Blair, and Cameron, what a bloody life time.

I don’t understand the implication here – surely AAA students are almost always going to be looked more favourably upon by universities than BBB students; you would expect the people unable to go to university would be the EE students, as they are crowded out by all the better-graded students cascading down through the system.

So what is the exact situation with those 3500?

Furthermore, 3500, in the context of, what, 500,000 school leavers per year, is actually quite a small number. Always good to put things like that into context, IMO.

Unless your one of the 3,500 of course

Well that’s sort of my point, isn’t it? Clearly anything bad happening is bad if you happen to be one of the people that the bad thing is happening to. It so happens that about 3500 people die in road accidents every year, and it would suck to be one of them too.

When deciding whether problems are worth solving it’s a good idea to have an understanding of how many people the problem affects so that we can split our limited resources appropriately instead of spending disproportionate sums solving trivial problems.

And it’s “you’re”.

Your one of them, a Tory whom has to tell people the best way to spell, sadly I use a speech writer, being disabled with a spinal cord injury and these things especially the one’s the government gives to cripples tend to not spell to good .

But hell I’ll get the wife to put in the correct spelling for ass holes.

The fact is a country as big as our with enough money to buy nukes can bloody well find 3,500 seats in further education, otherwise how will they be able to spell.

You’re still missing the point; it’s not possible to do anything about these poor AAA students until we know why it is they haven’t got a place. As I said in my original comment, you’d expect them to move to their fallback offer and take places at lesser universities – it’s the people right at the bottom of the educational chain with two E’s who one would really expect to be suffering. AAA students can go on a gap year, come back and reapply if there’s really only one course in the country they want to study on; is that what these 3500 are doing? We don’t know. Students with two E’s have much less opportunity to do that.

Many of the 3,500 will be the people who applied to Cambridge, UCL, King’s, Manchester and Nottingham for law, for instance, and were just unlucky enough to fall through the net at all of them.

If our theoretical triple A student had substituted King’s (3As in London) for Hull (3Bs used to be part of Humberside) then they might have been home and dry with a place at a good uni, on a good course, but one which lacks the cachet of the Russell Group, in the capital, and so on, but is easier to get into.

Its always best to have a back-up even if going there wouldn’t be your first choice. After all you can always click the ‘no’ button on the UCAS site and not go there if you’d rather not.

Applying for 4 courses all needing AAA is stupid. The whole point of having a list of places is so that you can have a backup offer if you don’t make your grades.

So far as I understand it, Clegg and Cable favour a graduate tax.

It looks to me like a fierce internal tussle is going on with this one. Cable pointedly told the media a few weeks ago that he was strongly opposed to lifting fee caps and that Lord Browne’s review would look at the graduate tax among other options, nudge wink. It wasn’t long before “Downing Street sources”, or something like that, let it known that a graduate tax would be unlikely. Then Clegg mentioned it again the other day as his preference in an interview with (I think) the Telegraph, by way of comeback.

Forgive my ignorance, but what is the NUS position on “second best” options?

(It strikes me, by the way, that a lot of the people who read/write on here will be missing out on a lot of this sort of kremlinology because they’re so determinedly set on the Lib Dem-satanic-betrayal narrative. The blogosphere as a whole seems to me curiously unobservant at the moment.)

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  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Clegg needs to back up his talk with action on education

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    RT @libcon: Clegg needs to back up his talk with action on education

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    My article for: RT @LibCon "Clegg needs to back up his talk with action on education"

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    RT @AaronPorter: My article for: RT @LibCon "Clegg needs to back up his talk with action on education" <– Good stuff A

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