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Gaps in university funding will hurt students

8th October 2012

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Whilst the discrepancy between the standard of education provided to students at deprived and wealthy schools has a consistent hold on the national consciousness, little attention is paid to an even greater discrepancy: the resources available to students at so called ‘elite’ universities and their lower ranked rivals. However the difference here is that there appears to be a clear reason why students at lower ranked universities receive a lower standard of education - considerably less government money is spent on them.

In 2008 the government decided that only research judged to be world leading or internationally excellent should be the recipient of government funding. These are the same institutions that are best placed to charge the full £9,000 fee to students. In other words rather than using government funds to mitigate the gap in wealth between higher ranked and lower ranked institutions, they are seeking to exacerbate it.

If the wealthiest and best performing (and the two are frequently interchangeable) schools received the largest government grants there would be national outrage, but create this status quo at a tertiary education level and it seems to draw little more than a murmur of dissent. It appears that we mentally draw a line in the sand when it comes to funding inequality in universities. Why is there this apparent double-think, and what lies behind it?  Do we feel that, when it comes to tertiary education, what is unacceptable at school is now somehow justified?

Certainly there appear to be certain advantages to this government policy. An argument  frequently put forward is that given that we have finite resources best to concentrate them in areas which will give the greatest gain. This plays to the idea that we should nurture an elite rather than spread government funding more widely through universities. However this appears to sacrifice the goal of providing a high standard of education to a wide number of people in favour of providing an exceptional standard to just a few. The new AAB+ threshold policy, whereby universities may recruit a limitless number of AAB+ A-level students, will bring a selective mindset previously confined to research grants into teaching. It appears that elite institutions will only continue to cement their advantage over rivals. Meanwhile, burgeoning universities and their students will continue to struggle for opportunities to be given a fair chance.

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