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The Tory Scholarship Plan is wrong

In Uncategorized on January 11, 2010 at 8:04 pm

By Stephen Wan

The Tories have today announces their plans for scholarships for children of serviceman or woman who have died during active duty, retrospective since 1990 (thereby including the two Gulf wars, Kosovo and Afghanistan). These grants will pay for the full tuition fees and living costs for either a course at a vocational college or a undergraduate university degree. According to the Conservatives, this will cost approximately no more than £1.5million, and will come out of the Widening Participation budget.

This policy is pure rubbish, and shows the Conservatives again as more concerned about gaining popular support than implementing proper policy.

Firstly, the Conservatives have now shrewdly positioned themselves as ‘the party supporting our troops”, ensuring their families are guaranteed a good future should they die. Nothing wrong with that. The only problem is, should any politician denounce or attack this policy, the Tories can immediately hit back with their usual patriotic rhetoric, putting themselves on the moral highground; the ‘upholders of the military covenant’, or the ‘guardians of the children left behind’ and so on. The Tories may prove me wrong and welcome debate on the subject, but somehow, I find that unlikely. After all, what Labour politician would want to be seen as not backing ‘our boys and girls’ fighting in the middle east? As with a lot of Conservative plans, discussion and scrutiny will be difficult at best. This policy is simply a cynical way of gaining public support for a relatively cheap price.

Secondly, this policy utterly fails to consider what higher education grants are meant to do. Grants were made to allow children to study at university who can’t otherwise afford it; essentially, those with parents who are poor. Yes, it does sound more likely that a child of a parent who died during active service will be unable to afford university fees, but this is not necessairly so. Unless you’re assuming every soldier in the army is poor, which is obviously far from true. There can quite easily be cases where the family is fairly rich, and can easily afford the fees of higher education; if the grant money goes to this student instead of a poorer one who really needs it to get through HE, its fundamentally unfair. One could even go so far as to say this policy will only benefit the rich; poorer students would already get large grants for their studies, currently as maintenance grants, whereas richer students would pay. Now the rich students don’t have to.

Thirdly, the policy doesn’t begin to consider whether the child is even suitable for HE. Not every child should get a undergraduate degree; sometimes it might not be suitable for them. Nor might a vocational course be suitable either. This is a criticism I have of the HE education in general; only those who are really at the top should study in HE, or else the system is meaningless. There should be a level of education and potential that must first be reached before HE can be accessed. The Conservative policy doesn’t take into account whether the child would benefit, or is suitable, for HE; it just gives out the money, no questions asked, in a manner which ultimately demeans any hard work the child would otherwise have done to get into HE.

Finally, to take the money out of the Widening Participation budget is wrong and shows a misunderstanding of what the WP sets out to achieve. The WP is an attempt to increase the proportion of students from under-represented groups, such as ethnic minority groups, those with disabilities, and those from low income families. WP thus tries to balance out the inequalities in society, whether it be ethnic groups, gender, or (and this was the main reason the Labour government introduced it) social class. It is ridiculous to put “children of parents who have died in active service” in the same categroy as “working class”, since there is no obvious evidence that these children are discriminated against.

What the Conservatives should be focusing on, if they are going to call themselves progressive at all, is a policy that ensures no student is put off from studying in HE because of financial difficulty, and that only those with merit can apply. HE access shouldn’t be able how rich you are, or even whether your parents died fighting for your country; HE should be about the student’s merit alone. A far better policy would be for the Tories to pledge grants to all poor students, or even to abolish tuition fees (once the country can afford it). What we’re seeing right now is the Tories cynically ‘showing’ the people that they ‘care’ by callously targeting a group which, having already suffered enough, is now being used as a political football. This is simply wrong.

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