With all that has been going on lately in Westminster, you would be forgiven if this story had passed you by. However due to the enormity of its potential impact - particularly in the current climate of Brexit uncertainty - NEC did not want it to go by without comment.
Leaked government proposals - expected to report next month - suggest plans that could bar thousands of disadvantaged young people from going to university. One initiative would prevent students who had not achieved three Ds at A level from getting a student loan. Thereby effectively writing off their chances of entering higher-education and any ambitions of progression.
As an organisation built upon the ethos of second-chance learning and educational opportunities for all, this prospect deeply disturbs us. We have helped thousands of students of all ages and backgrounds who feel their time at school or college does not reflect their potential for future learning nor ability to achieve their goals.
Many of our students study with NEC in order to go on to higher-education; As Steven Cummins' story shows so well - people develop intellectually at different stages in their lives. We need to make sure that second-chance learners are given every support when they attempt to re-enter education at any level.
We are not alone in this opinion; in the two Guardian newspaper articles published on this subject (Student loan ban: some universities could lose a third of their intake; 15/01/19, University chiefs angry over ‘elitist’ student loan plans; 08/01/19 - Anna Fazackerley) a host of educational leaders (Inc. UCAS, in an article published today) and universities damn the proposals and correctly point out the wider negative impact it will have on funding, job losses and skill shortages; but what caught our attention in particular was Steven Cummins’ (professor of population health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) candid reflections on his own experience. The following is from Student loan ban: some universities could lose a third of their intake by Anna Fazackerley published in the Guardian newspaper 15/01/19:
‘Cummins, who has advised the Department of Health and the Food Standards Agency, got two Es and a U at grammar school in Southend, Essex. He says he wasn’t mature enough to work hard.
He retook his A-levels at college in the evenings, doing an office job in the day, and pushed his grades up to CEE. Happily, it was enough to get on to what he describes as a “transformational” geography degree at his local HE college, now the University of Gloucestershire.
“I finally found something I enjoyed and was good at,” he says. “Starting again in a completely different environment meant no one had any preconceptions and that was hugely liberating.”
Cummins was the first in his family to go to university. His dad was a builder and his mum was a clerk. He says the advantages it has given him have been huge.
“There are always people who, for whatever reason, don’t achieve their potential at the age of 18,” he says. “I think that writing them off at that age and not giving them the opportunity to experience the transformative power of higher education is a huge mistake.”
“A student’s performance in school is often not an indicator of their performance at university, especially when they are studying a subject they really enjoy, taught in a way they haven’t experienced before,” he says. “We work very closely with industry so it feels relevant, and we work hard at building their self-confidence.”’
In the first month of the centenary of the 1919 Report, this is our second response to what we believe is a systematic deconstruction of adult education and the educational opportunities for some of the poorest and most disadvantaged members of society.
Since our formation in 1963, as well as providing an access route for distance learners wanting to either return to or continue their education, NEC has worked in close partnership with a wide range of organisations to promote and provide educational opportunities for all. Our ethos has been clear since the beginning: Ensure learning is accessible to everyone, and enable individuals to fulfil their potential and achieve their ambitions.
We hope the shared opposition will be enough to make sure these proposals are stopped dead in their tracks. If not we are prepared, and will continue to campaign, as we have done so for over 55 years.