Every summer whilst I was a County Councillor I was part of a group that would meet several times to allocate discretionary education grants. To explain, students enrolled on approved third level courses in registered institutions would automatically receive a government grant to support them whilst they studied. Local authorities were empowered to set aside a portion of their education budget in order to support students who did not meet the government’s criteria. A committee consisting of Councillors, advised by education officials, would assess each of the many applications received for funding under this heading.
Among the claimants would be students who had failed a year and needed support in order to re-take that year. Quite often we would defer such claims, asking the applicant to provide additional information. There might be a good reason for the student having failed to achieve a pass. Illness, injury or family berievement were among the reasons given and these would need supporting medical or other evidence. References might also be sought from the student’s tutors.
Courses that did not automatically qualify for government support, but could be supported by the local authority, included performing arts. It was here that I encountered the same level of prejudice as in discussions of dyslexia. Unlike judges on ‘The X Factor’ or ‘The Voice’, we did not have the advantage of having witnessed the student’s performance. All we had to go on was the opinion of dance, drama or music teachers familiar with the candidate’s ability and potential. For some Councillors anything except the level of genius that merited a scholarship to a prestigious establishment was regarded as frivolous and earned a ‘no’ vote from them. The same was true of such subjects as beauty therapy.
More studying than ever
It was still the case in England in the late 1980s that fewer than 20% of young people continued in full-time education beyond the age of 18. That was an improvement on the participation rate of around 5% when I left school in the late ’50s but still only half the current rate. Statistics about participation rates in higher education in the UK are difficult to unravel because they can be distorted by the presence of overseas students and mature students. My source for the above information is:
Education: Historical statistics, Standard Note: SN/SG/4252
Last updated: 27 November 2012
Author: Paul Bolton, Social & General Statistics
It is this massive increase in participation rates that makes me hesitate to take a position in the debate about tuition fees and grants vs loans. Not only does the vastly increased number of students mean that the cost of provision is much greater, but, in past times, the majority of these young people would be in the workforce. With many more people living well beyond retirement age at the same time as a large proportion of young people are not entering the workforce until their early twenties, those workers have to support an ever increasing cohort of people at each end of life who are not gainfully employed.
The argument in favour of grants rather than repayable loans is that the earning capacity of graduates is greater than that of the majority, so they will pay more in tax over their working life. The problem is that not all graduates take up high-paid employment.
How do you respond to the questions raised in this post?
- Do you favour state funding for all students beyond the age of 18?
- Should such funding be limited to specific courses?
- Would you deny state support for performing arts whilst providing it for, say, science and technology?
- And should the decision as to whether or not a particular student receives a grant be in the hands of politicians?