Economists from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) have slammed the government’s new grant system to be introduced next year to university students. The reforms are aimed at attracting the poorest students to university by handing out grants worth hundreds of millions of pounds a year - something the IFS has described as a waste of time. They claim that taxpayers' money would be better spent on improving the school results of youngsters from poor homes. They also cited universities as coming out of the deal worse off since they would have to give bursaries to more students. Emla Fitzsimons, from the institute, said: "The latest reforms only benefit students from families with incomes over £17,500." This will mean that students from below average income homes will feel some benefit, but the ones who the policy was actually aimed at, low income backgrounds, will not receive any benefit.
Haroon Chowdry, a researcher at the institute, said: "The most effective way of increasing participation in higher education among children from poorer socio-economic backgrounds is to improve their academic results in school." Surely this is the most common sense approach anyway. What is the point of making it easier for poorer students to get to university if they have not received the quality of education required to go there in the first place, regardless of their financial situation? This policy exposes to flaws in the government's policy.
Firstly, they will do anything to appeal to the electorate. Handing out grants is a good headline winner and gives the seemingly tangible impression they are tackling the issue. The reality is, of course, that they are paying lip service to the issue by appearing to tackle the problem - i.e. throwing money at it but with no results.
Secondly, the government's obsession with getting more and more people to university is part of the problem, not the solution. Surely the point of university is to provide further education to those who have excelled during school and want to take their studies further? If you haven't sorted out the schools, there is no point filling up the universities with people lacking skills and the real motivation to go – it is no good for the student in question as they will have wasted three years and it devalues the university degree system as a whole. This goes for students of all backgrounds, not just low income of course. However, the government is denying a real chance for low income families to excel in their academic studies at schools, long before they have to make a decision about university.