Under new proposals, the UK’s wealthiest students could buy uni places that would usually go to international students. Good idea, or would this give privileged youngsters yet another advantage over the less well off?
After the intense controversy surrounding the government’s introduction of £9,000 university tuition fees, a fresh debate is now raging.
This time it concerns the suggestion that the UK’s wealthiest youngsters might be able to buy ‘off-quota’ places at top educational institutions.
Currently, universities can offer a limited number of government-backed places to undergraduates who are eligible to borrow money for their tuition and living expenses. Over and above this quota, however, institutions can accept ‘foreign students’ who must pay far higher fees and are not eligible for financial help from the taxpayer.
Fees for international undergraduates can be as high as £12,000 a year for arts subjects, £18,000 for science courses and can hit £28,000 a year for medical degrees.
Under the latest proposals, UK students might be able to attend university on the same basis as undergraduates from other countries – paying ultra-high prices for degree courses that might be fully subscribed by home students, so long as they meet course entry requirements.
‘More people going to university is good’
David Willets, the universities minister, told the Guardian: ‘There are various important issues that need to be addressed around off-quota places, but I start from the view that an increase in the total number of higher education places could aid social mobility.’
Alongside allowing private individuals to pay for off-quota uni courses, the government’s proposals – which will be outlined in a white paper this summer – include an extension in the role of businesses and charities. They would be encouraged to sponsor students throughout their degrees, freeing up government-funded places for other young people.
According to the government, letting more undergraduates side-step publicly-subsidised uni places means there will be more of these available for candidates from poorer homes.
Under one version of the scheme, universities might operate a ‘needs-blind’ admissions process. This would initially assess candidates without looking at their ability to pay for courses – the wealthiest in this group of successful applicants would then be offered off-quota places. In a way, this could negatively impact wealthier students, as they’d now need to pay more than they would under the current system.
More perks for the privileged?
However, critics of the coalition’s proposals are outraged that wealthy parents might be able to buy their children places at over-subscribed institutions, whereas students from less well-off backgrounds will simply have to accept rejection.
The demand for university places, particularly at top institutions, far outstrips supply. Last year Oxford is said to have turned away around 14,000 UK and EU applicants for undergraduate degrees – more than four times as many students as it accepted.
Prime Minister David Cameron has stated that these proposals are not yet government policy, while David Willets has stressed that the government is keen to hear people’s views on the plans. ‘There would need to be arrangements to make sure any such system was fair and worked in the interests of students as well as institutions,’ he says.
So does allowing the very wealthiest in society to take off-quota university places seem fair? Is it right to ‘remove’ rich young people from the usual admissions channels – and do you think the arguments in favour of doing so make sense?
Should wealthier students be able to buy uni places?
No (78%, 194 Votes)
Yes (22%, 56 Votes)
Total Voters: 250