Opinion: why we should support students from state schools going to university

Perhaps one of the biggest issues in Britain today is education and having heard various members of my family rant on about it, it’s one of the most emotive subjects I’ve come by. This week we have had all the talk of university tuition fees and I’ve been listening very carefully as it does affect me, but whatever level whether it be primary, secondary or further education, the Lib Dems are the people who usually stand up for our pupils and students.

In Dunfermline at the Scottish Liberal Democrat’s conference I (a very nervous young first timer) got up on the stage and made a speech on education. I see it almost every day as I go to a state school that’s just about to send the first student since time immemorial off to Oxbridge, and I was told that there was no one in our career office that had had any experience in helping a student get into Oxbridge. I found this outrageous. That student is most likely just as bright as anyone from Eton or a top state school yet there is no help for him to get into the top universities.

This inequality will not be helped by the removal of the cap on tuition fees (oh yes I’m fired up on that too). I can’t wrap my head around the idea that universities will be able to charge what they feel like. This party was one that stood up for free tuition fees, we didn’t win that one so we can’t lose the cap.

I’m just 14 but I already know how hard it will be for me to go to Oxbridge but luckily for me my parents and grandparents have made plans to make sure I can fulfil my dreams. Others aren’t so lucky, so please I urge everyone from every party to stand up and fight for our current and future students.

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  • With respect, and I congratulate you on your contribution here, you are confusing a number of issues.

    That state schools should have someone in the careers advice who can coach for university entry is absolutely a good idea.

    That the state should provide help with living costs for those from the poorest background is absolutely a good idea (and the Browne report suggests that).

    But these have nothing to do with the fees issue. So far, there has been no evidence that fees have reduced the applications to university, and the money to pay NOW still has to be found.

  • Aleandra White 16th Oct '10 - 2:53pm

    Yes I see your point. What I mean that in our careers office a teacher told me that no one had ever had any experience in getting a student, in his case into Cambridge as it has a different application system so it put him at a disadvantage. Sorry for any confusion cause. I perhaps need a lot more experience on the bloging side of the internet.

  • Congratulations on your speech at the conference Alexandra and congratulations to your schoolmate for getting into either Ox or Bridge. Hopefully your school will support other students in their applications in the future: the most important thing is letting the school know that you intend to apply so they can help you prepare.

    It is hard for anyone to get into Oxford or Cambridge: only about one in five applicants will be given a place on average. But the success rate for state school pupil applications isn’t much behind independent schools (22.2% vs 28% in 2009) and students from state grammar schools have a success rate just as good as independent schools.

    Good luck with your studies and I hope you stay involved in Lib Dem politics!

  • Patrick Smith 16th Oct '10 - 3:12pm

    Alexandra is absolutely right, as a Year 9 State School, that she has the right to access to advice to get a place at one of the best Universities.

    However,the choices open in higher education should be based on appropriate entrance and visits and how and when to apply,if decides herself to choose Oxbridge.But ultimately making a personal choice is the most important factor and to happy there with friends etc.

    The point is that the brunt of future rising cost of `paying back higher `Tuition Fees’ will be borne by Alexandra`s generation.

    They already have read the media and neither our `Coalition Government’ or the students themselves, can know in advance, exactly how much money and how long it will take to pay off the new envisaged costlier students loans,when interest is payable,when not required before.

    Surely,there has to be more moral ambition by our policy makers, to make certain the today`s year 9 students in State Schools will know in advance, what the full cost of their education will be,in the future over 3 or 4 years?

    For examples with the current trend in decline Modern Languages undergrads. should still have the facility to spend a whole year submerged in the country whose language they choose to study :France,Spain or Russian or whereever.

    Until now, students have known that the cost of their `Tuition Fees’ was running at £3239 each academic year and so could work this out on their calculator and then could make arrangments to do part-time and vacation work.

    Unless there is to be `a new cap’ any University will be tantamount to a market led approach, when the best Univesrities, will be sorely tempted soon to charge the highest fees and exclude ambition by the least off applicants on financial grounds alone.

    Will a new targeting of the post Browne bursaries for poorer students be enough to enable them, to attend the Universities of their aspiration and ambition and choices reduced or limited ?

  • Unfortunately not every state school can have someone with experience of getting people into Oxbridge because the event is rare, and not every state school pupil who’s capable of being educated at Oxbridge can go because there aren’t enough places.

    The whole point of Lord Brownes report is finding a way to fund our universities and drive up standards so that more institutions are as good as Oxbridge. For the sake of social justice and our national economy we need to liberate universities financially, however in doing so we need to ensure we don’t widen the gap between rich and poor, making students pay a fee after they graduate isn’t a problem providing the interest payments don’t become a regressive tax.

  • I went to a very posh private school and there was no one who ‘helped you get into Oxbridge’. Someone looked over your personal statement and the rest was up to you. I think that a lot of the nervousness from students from non-traditional background is this notion that teachers by the dozen drum you with practice interview questions, call up their academic buddies from Oxbridge to ‘have a word’, and know the ins and outs of what different colleges look for. Not a bit of it. You have just as much chance as anyone from Eton, Westminster or wherever. Apply with confidence and you’ll do great. Good luck.

  • Also, when 50% of Oxbridge entrants are from state schools it isn’t impossible.

  • errrrmm

    yes its possible but lets not forget that less than 1 in 10 pupils go to an independent school therefore odds are stacked against any state school pupil, even if 50% of Oxford students are from state school. Saying that a state schooled pupil has as much chance as someone from Eton is clearly a lie.

    I’m sure with your paid for education you don’t need the word flippant explained to you.

  • Chris.

    Let me be clear. I come from a broken home. I went to a terrible comprehensive in the North-West, left with 2 O levels, studied for (and passed) my A levels at evening class in my early twenties before deciding to do my degree through the OU. I now own a marketing company, work for a film company and act as a literary agent. Nothing to do with a paid for education at all apart from my own financial sacrifice for the evening classes and degree.

    My point is that plenty of state students get to Oxbridge – and that not doing so isn’t the end of the world.

  • @Alexandra
    Its great that you have supportive parents and grandparents to help you get to Oxbridge but I think you are a bit confused. You don’t need their financial help under the browne proposals.If you get in and get a well paid job you will have enough money to pay back a bigger loan. If you get in and take a lower paid job then you won’t have to pay back as much (or not at all).

  • Chris,

    With respect that isn’t the right comparison to make
    1) By sixth form actually about one in seven students is privately educated
    2) Many of those in the state sector will be pursuing more vocational qualifications and have no interest in Oxbridge.
    3) When you look at application statistics the odds of any one state schooler getting into Oxbridge is roughly, but not quite, the same as those from private schools.

    I did some access work whilst at Oxbridge and they invest a substantial amount in trying to get the right students. Remember many of the academics believe very much in equality of access and there are a fair few very left wing anti private school academics. The particular problem that I noticed with students who visited had often got very poor advice. For instance when choosing their A-levels they often picked the wrong subjects or the right subjects weren’t available. Good private (and actually many good state schools) will have an eye on Oxbridge at this stage and ensure that their students take the right subjects. Many students hadn’t realised they were strongly advised to take Maths for Economics for instance. Or that subjects like Law, even if they wanted to do Law, weren’t seen as the best preparation for the course. Sometimes they had taken a combination of subjects that weren’t really useful.

    Another key concern was some of the horror stories I heard from them that their teachers had told them. That Oxbridge wasn’t for poor/state schools/northerners or that it was more expensive than other universities. Goodness knows how many students have been put off by these myths.

    Oxbridge spend a lot of time on trying to get the best students and, if you are not well off, is a fantastic place to go. There is a good bursary system, there are not insignificant rewards for doing well, you often only pay for the accommodation you use (thus saving 20 weeks rent a year), have long holidays that you can often work in and find a huge range of different grants and bursaries to help fund books, sports, independent travel, unexpected financial problems.

  • Yes, it’s worth looking at how many from which sectors apply rather than merely how many from each enroll. We need more state school kids applying and then the numbers would even out. It’s also worth remembering that many of the Etonians/Westminster-types were some of the brightest students there. Not ever private school Oxbridge student is some simpering hooray, but competition would do everyone well. It’s a weird class thing when teachers don’t want their own students to go to the best universities that they can get into. A totally different attitude than, say, in the States.

  • Mark Wilson 17th Oct '10 - 9:47pm

    I cannot believe that Lib Dems, and Charles and SMcG in particular are being so glib about this issue. Before we get carried away with rhetoric about the University Sector and “liberating” the sector, I am sorry that just smacks of Free Market dogma, and forgetting about the “consumers” of this service.
    Other advanced Western Economies including Germany do not have a hang up about this issue because they truly value the contribution that graduates play in their economy. In the UK we seem to view them a time wasting layabouts “still”. This image died in the 1970’s. Students have to work damn hard to get to University, and whilst they are there. If you want to talk about the quality of the degrees they end up with that is a separate argument but one that full square must be directed at the Universities themselves.
    Let’s also kick some other myths in to touch.
    1. Graduates always get well paid jobs, or by inference ( and I sure SMcG did not mean this) they choose to get lower paid jobs – Tosh what person chooses unless they are doing voluntary work to take a lower paid job unless the fields they want to move is already, or in the future likely to be lower paid. I am 47 yrs old a graduate, and I possess a HNC in Business Studies and earn £23k. Every time I change my job my wage rate normally go”down”.
    2. Graduate Tax cannot be introduced because overseas students will leave the country without paying their Loans back – Well what stops overseas students who are resident in this country long enough to qualify for a domestic student loan from doing the same thing? When universal Grants were stopped a Graduate Tax should have been introduced instead end of story. What we have and are going to develop still further is a complex overblown Student Loans, and Tuition Fees package which is bureaucratic in its nature even if we have not got the so called bureaucracy of Govt handling the machinery. Can someone tell me from an initial idea of Students having to pay their way for their Education so they no longer got it for free we ended up with a mechanism of Student Loans that is governed by the different interest rates that are to be charge merely because we handed control of the system to the “banks”???
    3. Universities should be allowed to charge whatever Fees they like – Why? We are living in very difficult economic times. We need our brightest and best to create the wealth we need, Universities to put on relevant courses to enable them to do this, no cap placed on the number of students being allowed to go to University, but for universities to “cut their costs” like other organisations are having to do. Without cost cutting in Universities no fee limits are a blank cheque for universities not to address this issue. We already saddle our Young People with more debt not of their choosing, than any other pre student loan generation. Then we expect them to get a mortgage and pay for the Care of people of my generation , and older. How is it fair that we have put so much burden on so few shoulders?
    Finally I say to Lib Dem MP’s a stark warning. On a matter of principle you must vote AGAINST the increase in Tuition Fees. Why I hear you ask yourself. Simply because at some stage Lib Dems’ have got to show they have some Independence of thought, and more importantly they have some principles. If they don’t then I predict they could very well jeopardise a successful outcome on the vote to change the Electoral System

  • I’m in Year11 at a private school, getting good marks and in my schools gifted and talented program. Unlike what a lot of people think, we get no advice about getting into Oxbridge or what to do to get a good number of things for your CV. I think Oxbridge should base entrance on grades and CV’s or statements not from the type of school you attend. I work so hard to achieve high grades yet newspapers say someone with lower grades could get into Oxbridge instead of me just because they go to a state school. I am considering going to a state sixth form for the reason that it might increase my chances of getting into Oxbridge. Also it is rediculous raising university fees by such a lot, it will just mean everyone will come out with more debt.

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