The Student Christian Movement (SCM) say they are appalled by the suggestion in the government’s forthcoming white paper that elite universities should be allowed to make extra places available for students who can afford to pay tuition fees at an exceptionally high level.
The proposal, which was revealed this morning (10 May), has also been slammed by the National Union of Students (NUS) and the University and College Union (UCU), which represents academic and teaching staff.
The presidents of the students unions at the universities of Cambridge and Oxford – the institutions most likely to make use of the plan – have also said that they oppose the idea.
Supporters of the proposal argue that it would increase social mobility by freeing up government-funded places for people from less affluent backgrounds.
But Hilary Topp, SCM’s National Co-ordinator, was quick to describe this argument as “misleading”. She said, “The overall increase in places would not lead to more students from lower-income families, given that the most elite universities already take most of their students from privileged backgrounds”.
Topp added that the scheme “would create a two-tier admissions system in which the very rich would buy their university places, while the vast majority of the population would be excluded”.
Tim Stacey, a student at Birmingham University who is a member of SCM, described his opposition to the idea as “an issue of justice”.
“Access to higher education should be based on ability, not the ability to pay,” he insisted, “These proposals would promote privilege over fairness, and are clearly incompatible with Jesus’ message of radical inclusivity and justice”.
SCM have been vocal in their opposition to government plans to allow universities to increase tuition fees to up to £9,000 per year. They insist that they will deter potential students from poorer backgrounds from applying to university.
SCM has participated in demonstrations against the increase and has spoken in favour of nonviolent direct action against fees, citing the example of Jesus’ protest in the Jerusalem Temple as their inspiration.
Also in today’s proposals is the suggestion that private companies and charities should be allowed to fund their own places at university.
Critics suggest that this would give the private sector undue influence over the curriculum. As an example, they point to firms such as the multinational arms company BAE Systems, which provides funding for a number of engineering courses at UK universities. Several of these courses have been criticised for a disproportionate focus on the arms industry.