It was a mistake to cut the EMA. Mr Milburn should think about similar grants to improve social mobility

Alan Milburn has proposed that universities should be paid for taking on greater numbers of working-class students.

Share

You can tell a lot about a country from the way it treats its rising stars, and I can’t help but feel that the Coalition would do well to remember that they can come from any walk of life.

The scrapping of the education maintenance allowance was a sign that those in power had forgotten that crucial fact, but the release of Alan Milburn’s report yesterday into widening access to higher education may yet go some way to rectifying what he himself called “a very bad mistake”.

I’d go so far as to call it an insult myself: a blinkered and careless swipe at the futures of disadvantaged young people. Social mobility is civilisation. That there is some chance that we might die in a slightly nicer bed than the one we are born in is what motivates us all. Closing down and obstructing routes to people who want to better themselves is, at best, fantastically stupid and, at worst, apocalyptic.

Milburn proposes a payment to universities that take on greater numbers of working-class students, which in principle is no bad thing. Bright children should be made a fuss of; educational institutions should seek them out. But they shouldn’t be paid to do so. There is every opportunity for this to become yet another box-ticking, number-crunching, quota-filling exercise that somehow manages to hoodwink the people it is supposed to be helping.

There was a time when working-class kids did make it to university. There’s a whole generation of them about to start collecting their pensions. They had grants: they were an optimistic investment in a better tomorrow for the rest of us. Because a society is only as strong as its weakest constituents, help them and you help us all.

That’s why whatever move Milburn makes will be so important. Our universities and our workplaces are suffering from a lack of diversity. What happens at the top of our country has almost no bearing on what’s going on at the bottom; we have all the stability of a spinning top, and our most hallowed halls are turning into finishing schools.

So why give the money straight to the universities? By all means, invest in them. But why not offer grants to those set on bettering themselves? That worked, didn’t it? It must have done, because I grew up in a nicer house than my parents did.

A lament for my Milan Big Mac

I’m alarmed to hear about a spat between two of my favourite things in the world this week, Prada and McDonald’s. The former has taken over the latter’s top spot in a posh shopping mall in Milan, and the latter is miffed about it. In fact, it is suing for more than €20m, claiming that it alone in the roll call of razzy names that dwell in the Galleria has been refused tenancy rights.

I know that mall well: often I have lamented that I can’t afford anything, allaying the sadness with a Quarter Pounder. That McDonald’s has fed the fortune-less there – an eyesore for the aesthetes more likely to be popping into Gucci than they are supersizing their lunch and watching the grease seep through its wrapper. Ciao bella, as they say.

Twitter: @harrywalker1

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Software Engineer - Python / Node / C / Go

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: *Flexible working in a relaxed ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Bookkeeper

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This accountancy firm have an e...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Developer / Mobile Apps / Java / C# / HTML 5 / JS

£17000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Junior Mobile Application Devel...

Recruitment Genius: LGV Driver - Category C or C+E

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This national Company that manu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress – arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?