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UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May has announced her newest proposal for advancing social mobility and education. Highlighted are measures for increasing the amount of qualitatively good school places to ensure all children the best possible start in life, in which universities are also to play a vital role.
The new road map, presented in a 9 September speech, outlines plans to radically increase the number of good school places by relaxing restrictions on creating new or expanding selective schools or grammar schools, as well as allowing non-selective schools to become selective. Universities who are looking to increase study fees are obliged to contribute with their expertise, and concretely offer support in enabling more children to attain the necessary foundations and skills to access academic education by:
What precisely an ‘increase in fees’ entails and how this will be measured is not clear, but is likely to relate to fees charged above the current basic tuition threshold set a 9000 pounds.
The plan aims to better capitalize on the potentials and proven success record of Universities in widening participation by engaging in partnerships with schools, referring to universities as Kings College London, the Universities of Brighton and Birmingham as good practice examples.
Universities are to be supported with more opportunities for working together with schools. It remains to be seen how higher education will be ‘part of the solution’, raising educational standards through the planned aggregation of selection in the state system and narrowing the gap between the higher education and school system - with many institutions, through alliances and collaborations, already engaging in such activities to create a pipeline of talent.
The debate has been sparked of how effective these measures will be in achieving contended goals, such as creating more equitable access and attainment conditions and building ‘a true meritocracy in Britain’ through ‘schools that work for everyone’. Critical voices raised concerns over alleviating prohibitions on selective schools as a retrograde plan, which reinstates a system that divides at an early age the wheat from the chaff, where only the top of pupils attain superior education. A potential quota for selective schools to take up children from low income households, opposition parties argue, cannot suffice in tackling the true causes for a public system where meritocracy is reserved for a privileged few.UK Government – press release