Posted tagged ‘Sutton Trust’

Away from home

March 5, 2018

Some 44 years ago I became an undergraduate student at Trinity College Dublin. On my first day as a student, I took a guided tour of the institution organised by the Student Representative Council (as it was then called).

I started chatting with two other students. One of them was self-assured, came from a solid middle class background, and told me he had taken his first major decision as a student: he would join the Geography Society (which had developed a reputation for field trips that involved many things apart from geography). The other was a young woman from a working class area of Dublin, who had come to TCD despite her parents’ misgivings about its Protestant history; she would live at home so that, she told me, her parents could ‘keep an eye on her’.

I don’t remember the names of either student (if indeed we exchanged names at all), but I sometimes wonder whether and how university life changed them. I fear a little that it may not have totally evened out the social gap between them. Or maybe it did, but the chances of that would have been greater if the second of the two managed to move out of the parental home at some point during her studies.

It is almost a cliché to say that the university experience should be more than just one of studying. It has a vital social dimension, which is about much more than having fun (though that, too, is good). That social dimension can be harnessed most effectively when students move away from their parental home and mix with other students outside of formal teaching and learning. One website offers 18 reasons (a good few of them tongue-in-cheek) why living away from home during university studies is good.

Now in a recent study the Sutton Trust has found that a majority of British students live at or near their homes, but that this choice is often driven by social class, with students from state schools significantly more likely to choose to stay at home than those who have been privately educated. These patterns are also reinforced by regional considerations, with students from less prosperous regions making choices that keep them there during their studies.

If this is a problem helping to sustain social inequality, it may not be easy to find a quick solution, as the forces sustaining this pattern are financial, structural and cultural. But it is important that higher education is a social leveller and does not help to perpetuate disadvantage. The Sutton Trust makes a number of recommendations, including the provision of targeted funding and a greater effort by universities to structure learning in a way that will help students living at home to achieve greater independence. These recommendations should be taken seriously by government and higher education institutions and should lead to appropriate action.

Funding matters

October 9, 2010

Higher education watchers may want to look out for the publication next week in Britain of the report of the Independent Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance, chaired by Lord Browne. The report was commissioned by Gordon Brown’s Labour government in 2009, but it is expected that the current UK government will move to implement its key findings. Exactly what these are remains to be seen, but one recommendation that has been anticipated in the media is expected to be that the cap on student fees in England (currently at £3,290) should either be increased very significantly or even be lifted altogether, meaning that universities would be able to set the fee at whatever level they deem to be appropriate. Such a move would coincide with an expected severe cut in higher education funding by the government as part of the current spending review being conducted; some commentators suggest that the funding cut could be as high as 25 per cent.

In this setting a debate is taking place about the possible consequences, with some (including the Sutton Trust) suggesting that these developments will lead to very high fees and loss of social mobility; while others (including the Rector of Imperial College London) arguing that universities will want to and need to create large endowments that will fund students from poorer backgrounds.

At any rate, the report and the resulting debate will be worth following, even in jurisdictions (including Ireland and Scotland) where there currently are no tuition fees.