Cash incentives for able students? That's the wrong way to go about higher education

Eleanor Doughty is dismayed at the news that some universities and colleges are offering rewards like fee reductions or laptops to students with good grades

What with all the fuss over some grades that got published last week, you might be tired of student news. For the next two weeks, August’s famous 'silly season' becomes the 'student zone', a dedicated fortnight of news all about the Yoof of Today. Oh, doesn’t it make a change?

But there’s always something for the cynics. We wrote last year about universities playing like football clubs in order to score students during Clearing. Free or slashed-price accommodation and specially prepared bursaries were on the table. It seemed harmless, with a Clearing limit of AAB candidates.

This seemingly wrong-way-around attitude didn’t meet my of-average UCAS stress experience. In my part of the country we were gunning for places at our first choices, not the reverse. There was fierce competition in the common room for who had the most offers, who had revised the most. No, really. Not one university rang me up and begged me – a cheque for a grand in hand – to come and study. Which is how it should be.

So this year, to read of further incentives coming from certain universities, is nothing short of disappointing. It doesn’t add up. Naively I was of the understanding that higher educational institutions were for learning, and supplying the world with a steady stream of graduates, ready to make their mark. This ‘academic creativity’ smacks more of the back-stabbing corporate world than it does the enriching scheme of education I have enjoyed for the past 16 years.

I admit that higher education is having a bad decade. First, New Labour tried to send everyone to university: charmed in principle, woeful in practice. And then the coalition stepped in with a rescue plan, and put the fees up. It isn’t particularly inspiring, is it? But this newest aired-in-public ploy to herd young people into the pseudo-real world so they don’t feel like the only non-graduate in the village, is upsetting at best.

Perplexingly, some of the offers are lacking too. Scholarships are advertised for the ‘most able students’, those with As and Bs. It doesn’t seem redeeming for those with A*s. In yet another scheme that looks to lower standards – the ‘most able’ pupils are not rewarded.

Beyond the scholarship ranks, some faculties have their hands in deep pockets, one proposing to fork out £3k a year for ABB provided one keeps a 2:1 average. If this applied to my college coterie, there’d be some redundancies at student finance. In other places, offerings of high-profile professional speakers – I don’t know who they think the tutors are – and cheap books are simply cringe-worthy. Properly subsidised material should be a given, wherever you study.

The phrase ‘charity number’ at my school used to fill me with hope. I left at eighteen for another upright institution that would delay my entrance to corporation central. But if bribes continue in sourcing students, that is the fate of the university: just another crooked business venture. And what motivation is that?

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