The furore over the announcement of a New College of the Humanities (NCH) is an example of, but ultimately a distraction from, the very real problem currently facing our education system. British universities have become inaccessible to the vast majority of people, and by nurturing the market philosophy initiated by Thatcher and Major, choice is no longer based on individual propriety, but on individual affordability.
British universities have historically filtered their intake by gender, faith and/or social standing, and this is a backwards step towards that discriminatory selection. It wasn’t until the 1880’s that women really started gaining access to higher education, and 1962 when the Education Act [PDF] introduced the mandatory grant system, and an enlightened progress towards a fairer system, more modelled on Plato’s non fee-paying Academy in Ancient Greece, echoed in Thomas More’s Utopia, than the first universities of the medieval world.
While it is impossible to define a causal relationship between wealth and IQ (first there is the chicken-and-egg problem, plus countless other factors influence personal development: quality of local education, peer groups, family attitudes, etc., for example), it is clear that many individuals from poorer backgrounds do excel at university. Thus, a far superior, more egalitarian and equitable system must be based on ability and not means-tested by family wealth.
Given the burgeoning support of faith schools under Blair and Brown, the NCH is an unsurprising development. Given the fees being asked, it is a further blow to our national education.