/ Money

Should wealthier students be able to buy uni places?

Students in a purse

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

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London student says:
10 May 2011

Laura, I’m glad you’ve raised this so quickly. You ask do the arguments for this idea make sense- and my reply would be that they only make sense in the warped marketised version of the university system that the Conservative party seem set to create. The problem facing students from normal backgrounds (i.e. those students without parents wealthy enough to buy them a place in a ‘top’ university with more financial ease than most parents face when buying their offspring a new school coat) is not merely a lack of university places but it’s the huge mountain of debt they face on being accepted. And to say that this idea (to allow rich people to buy there way in) offers any financial consolation to those students -on the hope that universities will have more money to play with and so may be able to offer some token bursaries- is nothing less than offensive. Philanthropy should not prop up the education system as it is inherently subjective and actively reproduces the ideology of the person dishing out the dosh.

And as for the Government trying to suggest this is a progressive idea and in some ways it will have negative impact for wealthier students -because they’ll have to pay more- the truth is, it isn’t progressive and it won’t hinder the rich. Quite the opposite in fact. It will allow the richest in society to extend their path of privilege right through the education system from nursery, to university, leaving the rest of society to fight over what’s left.


I agree with the above sentiments – But I wonder….

You see years ago I was granted a “Student Apprenticeship” by an Electronics Research Establishment – This was where they paid me (and another) a generous maintenance grant of just over twice the mandatory grant while I read for an Electronics degree. All details were sorted by the Company. I already had good entry qualifications for University. I simply turned up once for a University Assessment and then first day of term. This was in return for one month’s work per year in various departments during the degree and two years after the degree was awarded .

I have to wonder if my place at Uni was directly paid for by the company – I never asked – or was it a simple maintenance sponsorship as the subject was not oversubscribed? I then went on to Rocket and Missile Guidance Research – plus a number of secret military appliances.

Could this be the same?


A difficult one. UK Students at my uni were turned away if they failed a year.

Foreign students were allowed to keep retaking as long as they kept paying the money.

My friend was one of those people.

So giving this right to UK students actually levels the playing field. Foreign students have always been preferred to UK based ones as not only do they get the fees paid, they also, apparently, get a subsidy for those foreign students.

So I actually see it as redressing the balance


I can’t see it as redressing the balance at all but the reverse for English students (It’s not UK students at all Welsh and Scottish Students have FREE University Education) (One of the reasons why Labour Lost so many seats to the SNP) –

I honestly think the only criteria for entering a UK University must be the ability to pass the exams. I think that all English students should have the same entry possibility which means it should be the same fee – not biased against the poor –

The old £3000 fee did do that – the new £9000 does not – The idea that the rich can pay for the best education is wrong in a Welfare Universal Education State which we had until Cameron.

Woolly Liberal says:
10 May 2011

Free university entrance in Scotland was introduced under a Labour-Liberal coalition because it was Liberal policy. It is the only fair policy that guarantees equality of opportunity for all, the problem is that we cannot afford it at the moment for the 40%+ of the population who want to be students. Despite the newspaper headlines, it is still Liberal policy, but only when it can be afforded. Allowing rich students to buy their way in makes the system less equal and should be rejected on those grounds.


In what some are calling a u-turn, prime minister David Cameron has come out to reject the posibility of richer students being able to buy off-quota places:

“”There is no question of people being able to buy their way into university,”

And further: “That is not going to happen. That is not our policy… The government’s policy is absolutely clear that university access is about the ability to learn and not the ability to pay,”


Nevertheless, the question and vote still stands – would this be a good or bad idea?

London student says:
11 May 2011

Phew what a relief. The Tory-Toff monster reared it’s ugly head only to whip it back under the PR duvet within a day thanks to Cameron and his smooth talking spin. I’m sure we don’t have long to wait until a similar regressive ‘breed not brains’ idea is struck up though…


London Student – Completely agree with you – The Condems want to restrict access by the poor of the further education system – just as it was in the “Good Old Days”.

This is just another ploy to try this attack out – then ducking back under cover when it backfires – just like the backing off of the proposal to sell off the remaining English Forests. Though education is far more important.