Trigger warning: COVID deaths, ableism in the education system and being excluded from it.
In their latest brainwave to get the public on side after a colossal series of blunders that have made us a worldwide laughing stock, the government have announced plans to shake up higher education, in a response to the Augar Review of Post-18 Education and Funding.
The plans (first reported in The Daily Telegraph) suggest minimum entry requirements for university students in a bid to get rid of “low-quality courses”, which they hope will reduce student numbers and see more people doing options such as apprenticeships.
This could see pupils who fail GCSE Maths and English being banned from taking out student loans, effectively preventing large swathes of people across the country from going to university. Except those who’ve got a casual £50,000 floating around who can pay if they fail, of course.
But yet again the government, in a bid to shake up post-18 education to ensure pupils “aren’t being pushed into higher education before they are ready” and reduce student numbers, are instead creating an elite system that excludes many people in society.
Except for ministers’ friends and cronies, of course.
Many people have already condemned the plans. Alistair Jarvis CBE, chief executive of Universities UK said; “Government should expand opportunity, not constrain it. Placing a cap on aspiration by reducing the number of places for people to study at university is bad for individuals, the economy and society.”
“Government should ensure that anyone with the potential to succeed at university has opportunity to do so.”
Such inflexible entry requirements could see us heading back decades in terms of equality, with only wealthy people being able to afford to go to university regardless of grades as disadvantaged students are already half as likely to get the required GCSE grades as their wealthier peers.
As with so many government announcements, this plan absolutely stinks of ableism and is yet more proof of the lack of basic human decency shown to disabled people. If their “living with COVID” plan wasn’t enough proof of ministers’ utter contempt of the disabled community, then this is just further evidence.
Not only do they not care if disabled people survive the pandemic, as long as everyone can eat in restaurants and get drunk on Friday nights, they don’t even want disabled people to have fair access to education.
Kelly explained how they got into university regardless of grades;
“I failed English and Maths in secondary school due to issues at home. I managed to get onto a course at university after showing how passionate I was and I earned a 2:1 in Environmental Science.”
“I am ADHD but only recently found this out. Only now can I see how my ADHD made it very difficult for me to focus on subjects I had no interest in”.
As with so many examples of ableism, the plans will be detrimental to society in the long run. By making such narrow entry requirements for degrees, you’re not weeding out low-quality courses, but actually weeding out highly talented individuals and not giving them a chance to shine and grow. You’re actually getting rid of potential talent that is inevitably going to filter into the workforce in a few years. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Jo O’Reilly told us how she failed her Maths GCSE despite the best efforts of teachers who “tried everything to help me grasp basic arithmetic”.
“I was in my second year of university when I heard the term dyscalculia for the first time. It never stopped me from completing my degree, or passing my NCTJ [National Council for the Training of Journalists qualification]. It never stopped me from working as a journalist or pivoting to PR.”
“I doubt I’d be able to pass a Maths GCSE even now”.
Anyone who has been through or worked in universities can attest to the post-18 education system being fundamentally flawed. Many university staff are striking to “fight for the future of higher education, with staff at ‘breaking point’ after a decade of cuts to pensions, falling pay and worsening working conditions”. Things aren’t much better for students, either. On completing their degrees, many are landed with a debt that is for most people, unlikely to ever be paid off.
So while the system undoubtedly needs to change, I’m not sure penalising university staff and excluding large swathes of society is the right way about it.
The thing the government doesn’t seem to grasp in their narrow-minded ivory tower, is there are many ways to access university degrees. Each suits the individual and applications are assessed by whether they will be able to do the course and whether they are the right fit.
By creating such inflexible entry requirements, you’re cutting off large swathes of talent and passion from a diverse range of backgrounds.
At this rate, the only people at universities will be white, middle or upper class, non-disabled people. But then again I’m fairly sure that’s exactly what would suit government ministers nicely.
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