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The perverse effects of government policies

July 31st, 2011 by Graham Attwell
Policy initiatives often have perverse effects. Of course it is perfectly easy to argue the English government’s entire policy on education is perverse.
But the latest announcements that some English universities may choose to offer bursaries to high achieving school students show just how policies can go wrong. the government has been encouraging universities to provide support for students as part of a commitment to widening access. But given the veracity of research showing that those form higher socio economic backgrounds have higher achievement levels in schools, the impact is going to be to reduce access to students from working class backgrounds and acerbate socio economic divides rather than widen access.
The government is also promoting STEM subjects, Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. However in the present cash strapped situation, following government finding changes, universities may well choose to reduce provision in subjects such as science which require expensive resources and instead promote courses such as management studies which are relatively cheap to offer.
Of course the article is right in stating it will be very difficult to recover loans from students in other European countries. Personally I doubt their will be a flood of incoming students. Firstly the reputation of English universities is falling fast. And secondly most European countries offer free or low fee courses. But even the previous fees regime was seen by most students as unjust and as such the avoidance of fee repayments is seen as socially justified and acceptable.
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The prospect of cheaper deals for high achievers was criticised by Gareth Thomas, the shadow universities minister, who said the money should be spent on widening access to students from poorer backgrounds. Nearly a third of students achieving AAB or above are from private schools and 20% of those achieving the highest grades at state sixth forms are in grammar schools.
He also said he expected to record substantial numbers of courses closing, particularly in sciences, as many universities decide they can no longer afford to run expensive, laboratory-based degrees.
He warned that universities could be faced with European Union applicants “flooding in”, because it will be virtually impossible to force them to repay their student loans once they return to their home countries.
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