Monday, June 25, 2007

Might tuition fees have something to do with the decrease in "social mobility"?

John Humphrys is beginning to annoy me. He's started a major production number on the decrease in social mobility. Of course, we get all the Statler and Waldorf stuff about "things ain't what they used to be" and JH returning to his haunts in Cardiff. On top of this there was an interview with Cameron, when Humphrys seemed to think the answer was to introduce a lottery for schools admissions. Brilliant.

Well done Humphrys/BBC, though, for at least mentioning in passing two crucial facts from the Sutton Trust report, on which all these shenanigans were based. One, the conclusion was founded on measuring university admissions across "classes". Two, the report said that if you were born in 1958 you had the best chance of being socially mobile.

Ahem. Excuse me. I was born in 1959 and was lucky enough to gain admittance to university. Would it perhaps be worth mentioning that in the seventies you simply sent all your university bills to your county council and they took care of them? I know this isn't a golden bullet, but it ought perhaps to be mentioned. Tuition fees have a lot to answer for. What a shame that old pro Humphrys didn't challenge Cameron on this point. After all, I think you'll find David Cameron supports tuition fees.


  1. Hi Paul,

    I'm against tuition fees, but I don't see how they could be a factor in the decrease in social mobility which the Sutton Trust identified. The Trust's research was based on people born in 1958 and 1970 - the latter would have been in their late 20's by the time tuition fees were introduced.

  2. I don't think they have that much effect.

    The downgrading of a university degree doesn't help much, but the main cause is a bigger welfare state, more complex taxation, incentives not to work and the failing education system at a lower level than university.

    If we want social mobility to occur then we need to liberalise and decrease penalties on work, investment and risk taking.
    Of course, some risks fail, but they wouldn't be risks otherwise and social mobility means that people can fall as well as rise (but that's healthy, it keeps people on their toes ;) )

    Tuition fees themselves are not a barrier to social mobility - they do however act as a filter to try and filter out those who would benefit from university education most.
    Those who wouldn't benefit would probably benefit from other forms of education or working which is just as valid a route up the social ladder (better in some cases- most of the best managers didn't do a 'management degree' but worked their way up - perhaps universal university education isn't the best thing)

  3. Thanks both.

    Don - you couldn't point me to the report could you? I have delved around and all I could find is this one, which doesn't mention university places:

    It's called "Blair's education - an international perspective"

  4. University intake from lower income groups dipped shortly after the introduction of university fees, but they have returned to trend now.

    That suggests that at most there was a shock effect that has been overcome, and very possibly there was merely a coincidental dip in admissins from lower economic groups.

    Social mobility will be best fascilitated by improving the quality of early years and school-aged education.

    Any spare money for education would be better spend improving education at younger years, rather than subsidising more adults to undergo training that will boost their personal incomes.

  5. Thanks Tom - good point. I wish I could get hold of the report. I have scoured the Sutton Trust and LSE web sites to no avail. Very frustrating.