The first policy pronouncement from the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills offers increased funding for university students from modest backgrounds. But making them the focus for expenditure does little for the status of FE or its students even though they are more likely to come from poorer backgrounds.
If the proposed additional funding really encouraged significant numbers to complete a degree, it would be welcome. In fact, all it means is that students studying together will be paying different amounts. If this is not considered a political problem, just look at the responses from Scotland, where homegrown university students do not pay fees, but those from England do.
This, however, is not the major problem. After all, when student grants were more readily available, some received the full whack while others got nothing. No, the real sticking point is that prioritising university funding is unlikely to meet the needs of the students the Government seeks to help.
The proportion of working class students with the requisite A-levels who attend university is already high. The problem is that not enough attain this basic A-level standard. The number will not be increased by reducing the cost of study at a higher level. Emphasising university study does little to aid students from poorer backgrounds. Yet, they would benefit from additional education, particularly at FE level.
If we are serious about widening participation in post-compulsory education, additional funding should be focused on FE. Unfortunately, the Government's plan runs counter to what is needed.