Why we must encourage young people from underprivileged backgrounds to go to university.

From a young age I’ve been constantly battling the idea of education and all its institutions. I have, almost, always felt that it wasn’t for me and I wasn’t really capable. Like many others, the stories of Richard Branson and Bill Gates led me to believe that it wasn’t such a bad idea leaving school and I could potentially do much better, focusing on what I was actually good at. It is worth noting, I never knew how middle class both Branson and Gates were, growing up (while I grew up on a council estate). Cutting a rather long story short of my teenage life. I write this post, as a recent graduate of Politics and International Relations, with an ever-growing eagerness to pursue education even further.

Now I still don’t believe we must all go to university, neither do I think that education is for everyone. However, I genuinely believe that in the pursuit of greater equality in education, greater emphasis must be placed in encouraging young people from underprivileged backgrounds to stick with education and go to university.

I write this in the backdrop of concerted efforts from the tory government, alongside other forces to deter many disadvantaged young people from staying in education. 2012 saw the tripling of tuition fees, even against fierce protest and opposition. This has now been followed by the very swift abolition of maintenance grants. The scrapping of maintenance grants essentially means that low-incomed students would, instead of a grant, receive a maintenance loan for living costs. This not only adds further debt to students that are most in need of financial aid but the increasing monetisation of our educational system will discourage many young people from low-incomed backgrounds from going to university, turning the prospect of further education into an economic question.

These policies are juxtaposed with a very clear rhetoric coming from government, of the need for increased diversity and inclusion of BME and working-class students. I read in an article on the guardian a while back, that black students are 50% more likely to quit their studies than any other student. Middle class students are more than twice as likely to go to university than their working class peers, with white working class males, five times, less likely to go to university. the lack of representation by BME and working-class people in our top universities also shows the gap in access between the poor and the rich. However, there still seems to be this belief amongst government that increased financialisation of higher education can bring about greater equality in access.

In spite of this, I think there is a real project for us, everyday people, to encourage those from underprivileged backgrounds to continue with education, in order to promote social mobility and greater equality in wider society. Society benefits a great deal from graduates, whether that’s through science, medicine or law. Education must be championed, even to the poorest. A child from a council estate should be able to believe that, one day, he or she can become a doctor. I feel like it should be, our duty, as a society, to help break those barriers that prevent one from having such aspirations.