The dangers of decreasing independence

8th August 1997 at 01:00
I am greatly disturbed at the suggestion that the Government is about to abandon the principle of free third-level education. I had a good deal of experience of the original grant system, both as a parent and as a vice-principal in charge of a grammar school sixth form. The system seemed to work reasonably well. Everybody received free tuition, and the better-off had their maintenance grant means-tested. In fact, those who received "free" grants then spent their lives paying them back in rates and taxes.

It had the advantage of making the students largely independent of their parents' notions and prejudices. They could choose their course and study away from home without their parents refusing to support them, or suggesting that university was not for the girls, or that they should "get a proper job".

All this will be thrown into the melting-pot if free education is abandoned. What parent or child will want to incur a mountain of debt, whatever conditions may be offered? Eighteen-year-olds are not at all independent of their parents, and just at the moment when they need to launch out, they are going to be made more dependent than ever. Parents will have every excuse to discourage university entry, especially for girls, and students will be deprived of any security against this kind of pressure.

The whole thing seems to me to be wicked, silly and wrong.


65 Whitehouse Park Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland

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