Higher Education: Can you stand a loan?

Higher education is still the privilege of those who can afford it. By Helen Mooney
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The Independent Online
The news that Barclays and Clydesdale Bank are likely to become the first to arrange student loans will do little to ease the predicament of many students. On the contrary, it could act as a disincentive both to those already on courses and to those from deprived families who were considering higher education.

Whoever provides the loan, the fortunate ones like myself will not have to worry. As I finish my A-levels and look forward to entering university in September I can sleep easy in the knowledge that my parents - middle class and relatively well-off - are committed to providing money to see me comfortably towards the fulfilment of my ambitions. Over the years they have put money aside to cater for this period of my life.

For some of my friends, equally deserving of a university place, the picture is not so rosy. Their parents have had to scrimp and scrape to bring them up and money is not freely available. Some have considered the prospect of a further three years on the breadline and have decided it is not for them. A loan would be their only way to survive and the worry of impending debt is enough to deter them.

All this is what the Marxist philosophers predicted for our class-ridden society. Politicians know that the number of students must continue to rise if Britain is to compete, but they are under pressure from a middle class that is intent on protecting its privileged position. So, free degrees are out and the bourgeoisie is once more able to cash in what the French philosopher Pierre Bourdieu once called its "cultural capital".

Involving banks in a student loan system is a sign of a country trying to hide the fact that it is not truly serious about the value of education. We need a radical rethink about what is important to our lives and how we spend our money. We have squandered North Sea oil profits, spent wasted billions on defence and followed privatisation programmes that have allowed individuals to milk the national coffers.

I only hope that those of us presently being educated are clever enough and original enough to come up with a better blueprint.

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