Participation points

February 7, 2018

Cherie Blair (HE&Me, News, 25 January) is mistaken about the participation rate at the time of the Robbins report. It was 6 per cent in 1963, when I started university as one of a small minority of working-class students. By the 1970s, the proportion had more than doubled, but it stagnated while the polytechnics coped with the drastic contraction of initial teacher training following Margaret Thatcher’s White Paper A Framework for Expansion.

I also disagree with Blair over tuition fees and funding. I would not have gone to university with the current consequent debt. In those days, the masses contributed to funding higher education for the elite in an elite system. Now that we have a mass system, the elite are not reciprocating, but are ducking their obligation to repay that debt. The working class, including fish and chip shop workers, now pay twice – in tuition fees and self-sustenance for their families, and in taxation to cover the loss on the sale of the debt book and writing off unpaid loans.

In 1963, after the Anderson report, the minimum grant was £50 towards fees, with a means test. It must not be hard to keep fees and devise a progressive support structure along similar lines, so that those from richer families get less and those aiming for social mobility – a declared government objective – get more.

Ian McNay
Professor emeritus, higher education and management
University of Greenwich

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