Social mobility is under threat. And so are our communities.
This week’s news about universities failing in their bursary targets in regards to social mobility is yet more evidence of how those shouting loudly about widening participation quite often do not put their money where their mouths are. In fact more than that 25% of bursaries are not going to those in the lowest income groups and the toothless access regulator OFFA remains unable to hold them to account.
Meanwhile, it seems that opportunities for social mobility are slipping away for many communities, like mine, who are told to integrate but then have to witness opportunities of moving up the social ladder get taken away. The Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) that helped young people to stay within college has now been stripped away from them with a disproportionate effect on minority groups. Eighty eight per cent of young Bangladeshis and 77 per cent of young Pakistanis, like me, relied on EMA. Being able to survive in college by having finance to help ‘integrate’ with others was crucial, and without it I may not have progressed on to university or got to where I am today.
My mother, a single parent, now wants to study human rights law as a mature student, but as she is still paying off debt, the psychological barrier and reality of incurring more debt has completely put her off. However, it is her reasons for study that would have been most purposeful; to deal with cultural barriers in the community, to speak out and to advocate issues including the need for women to access education. This means the community has lost a role model who would have had a huge impact locally and in wider society. All the indications are that this will get worse – not better – as a result of the government’s higher education reforms.
When I go back home to Manchester and speak to families in my community, it seems that it is the young women who are going to be most affected by the new education funding system. Asian families with sons and daughters are more likely to send their sons to university rather than their daughters. But let me make this clear – often, this is not because they do not want their daughters to have an education. Rather, it is because in this culture it is of huge importance for their daughter to marry and leave home to be able to securely enter a new life and a new family. The last thing they want is for her to enter her new life with huge levels of debt, regardless of whether she ends up in a high earning job. Ministers clearly do not understand the impact of their policies on the ground and the impact they are having on BME communities and women.
And it’s not just fees and funding, but also whether those expected to integrate are given the support they need. Cuts to English language provision for speakers of other languages (ESOL) further marginalise and isolate those with the potential to contribute to our society. Meanwhile, the lack of good careers advice has a disproportionate impact on the poorest and the non-traditional students who lack cultural capital, networks and old boys’ clubs.
It is no coincidence that 29 per cent of institutions in OFFA’s report this week identified involvement with the university scheme Aimhigher as being the most successful and significant type of widening participation activity they undertook. The Aimhigher scheme made a real difference to communities, and yet the government scrapped it in a second.
The government’s future higher education reforms threaten to make the situation even worse. The new student number proposals mean universities will chase those top-performing students with A-levels at AAB and above with more ‘merit-based’ scholarships which will not ensure that money gets to those who need it. The threat to social mobility is stark.
With students achieving AAB and above coming disproportionately from the independent school sector we could see money going into the pockets of the students who need it least, while those in the lowest income groups see their support income shrink. Those from working class backgrounds, especially BME communities, will be among the hardest hit.
We cannot allow this to happen to our communities who want to integrate and want to access the ladder of social mobility. Unless we defend them, they face lasting damage at the hands of ministers who either do not understand or do not care.
Photo Credits: Princeton University, Office of Communications, Denise Applewhite (2010)
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