Sussex headteachers have shared their concerns about the rising cost of university education.
With a number of universities in England announcing they would be raising their annual fees above the £9,000 limit, there are fears higher education could once again become the playground of the elite.
Michael Ferry, head of St Wilfrid’s School, in Crawley, said the idea of increasing fees was “alarming” and added: “This will only put students off from entering university as they will be saddled with increased amounts of debt.
“Although many schools, including St Wilfrid’s, spend a lot of time demystifying what you pay for and when, it will certainly put people off from applying if fees rise.
“If we are not careful as a society, we will go back in time to an age when only a small minority were able to access a university place and even they were given a grant to do so.”
Peter Woodman, head of The Weald School, in Billingshurst, said he did not think students had been put off by the high fees, but were more selective about their choices.
He added: “They want to go to a university where the teaching is good and the support first class. They do not just want a degree.
“They want the right course that is also value for money and provides them with the right educational experience for their next step in life.”
When it came to earning a place at university, Mr Woodman felt the increasingly difficult A-levels would lead to a fall in the numbers making the grade.
He agreed the rising fees could also see students from less well-off backgrounds deciding the cost was too high.
Currently, any student debts not paid back after 30 years are wiped out and there are that, if that safety net was withdrawn, talented youngsters would choose to enter employment or an apprenticeship rather than achieving their full potential at university.
Mr Woodman recognised the difficulties faced by the government when it scrapped free university education.
He pointed out the percentage of students participating in higher education had risen from 10 per cent in the 1980s to more than 40 per cent and added: “This comes at a cost.
“Providing virtually free higher education to 10 per centr of the population was one thing but providing it to over 40 per cent of the population is expensive.”
Summing up his feeling, Mr Ferry said: “Universities are great places for their further development and although not everyone wants to apply, we should do everything we can to ensure that access to university is fair and that people get in on merit, not because of which school they went to or how much money their parents have.”
Mr Woodman agreed, describing a framed extract of a speech made by playwright Alan Bennett, which hangs in his office.
Called Fair Play, it reads: “We all know that to educate, not according to ability but according to the social situation of the parents, is both wrong and a waste.”
He said: “I whole heartedly agree. As such, I worry that increasing university fees yet again will allow the sons and daughters of those who can afford university to go and those who cannot afford it, not to go.
“Unless mechanisms are put in place to encourage and support those students and families this would be both unfair and a tragic waste of potential.”
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