Wednesday 20 October 2010

Money For Education

I have just had the good fortune to spend three days on fieldwork with my A2 biologists. I am not ashamed to say that of all the classes I have, I love teaching the A2s the most. They are intelligent, curious and devilishly witty. And I listen to them. More than a lecturer, for them I am a careers adviser, substitute nurse, psychologist, relationship counsellor, and the keeper of the primary literature.

At the moment, they are really worried about money. They're facing a doubling of their tuition fees. The student loans they are currently entitled to will still be available, but I don't know enough about student funding to be able to assuage their fears of not being able to afford to join the university of their choice, let alone afford to live and study there.

I was the first year to pay tuition fees. This was tough. Everyone of our parents' generation had been fortunate enough not only to pay fees but to receive full maintenance grants. Needless to say, fees were brought in by Labour, who are now bitching like anything at pretty much every Conservative spending cut, so my support for any political party is fairly restricted at the moment. As I was liable for full fees due to my father's income, he undertook to pay my tuition fees. £4000 for my degree was a fair bit for him to fork out.

(A note to Americans who might think we have this easy - bear in mind that these were brought in with less than a year's warning, as will the increases, leaving very little time to save up in college funds.)

Now it has been announced that the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) is to be cut, courtesy of the coalition government. The Chancellor's speech went thus:
We will fund an increase in places for 16 to 19 year olds, and raise the participation age to 18 by the end of the Parliament - and that enables us to replace education maintenance allowances with more targeted support.
I don't know what "targeted support" will entail, but the EMA seemed pretty targeted to me - means tested on the basis of income. For some students it's the difference between being able to eat during the day and going hungry. Or it's the difference between a three-hour bus journey across London to college or an hour-long train ride. Or it's the difference between being able to go to sixth-form or being pressurised to work full-time.

I'm not an idiot - I know cuts need to come in somewhere. But in the same speech Osborne talks about showering the early years education sector with extra funds. I can't help but think that all that money on ensuring children get the best start is going to be an absolute waste if they then face a massive funding-shaped barrier the moment they hit 16.

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