New Humanities College is a step in the wrong direction for social mobility

The irony of a private university specialising in the humanities with fees of £18,000 a year being launched just weeks after London Metropolitan University announced plans to slash its own arts and humanities courses, has not been lost on critics who have already attacked the plans.

But sadly, many of London Met’s students who will be unable to complete their courses and young people from poorer and working backgrounds – predominantly from black and Asian communities – for whom such courses will be out of reach in the future, see no humour in what one dissenting Guardian blogger described as a sick joke.

The move signals a disturbing shift in the provision of higher education in the UK and conveys glaring indifference on the part of a plutocratic government leaving education to market forces and turning it into a commodity restricted to those who can afford it.

The ‘millionaire’s club’ cabinet members may see £18,000 a year as small change but as surveys have already indicated, even the £9,000 a year that tuition fees have effectively been raised to puts higher education beyond the reach of a large section of working class families of all ethnic backgrounds.

The Labour government’s record on social mobility was bad enough, but under this coalition government it looks set to get very much worse.

An important survey published today by the TUC shows just how wide the gap is growing between the rich and poor in this country.

Britain’s Livelihood Crisis reveals that over the last thirty years, the top ten per cent of the country’s earners have seen their pay increase nearly four times faster than the lowest per cent of earners.

The last three decades has seen a rise in poorly paid jobs (that pay a third less than the median £11 an hour). This is despite the fact the economy has doubled during the same period.

So while the coalition government deceives the public into thinking that the economic woes of low-income families are a result of the recession, the truth is, as TUC general secretary Brendan Barber put it:

“Britain has got much wealthier over the last three decades. But while a small financial elite have grabbed an ever larger share for themselves, many people on low and middle incomes have seen barely any improvement in their incomes, while some have even seen their take home pay fall.”

So there is every reason to be concerned that the type of working people who have not shared in the nation’s wealth over the last thirty years are not only excluded from private universities like New Humanities College, but are being priced out of higher education altogether and as Barber warns:

"Not only do many of those caught in this crisis have little or no prospect of escape, their children are likely to face an even more uncertain economic future."

Higher education in the humanities should not be the preserve of the wealthy but it is a predictable reaction to devastating cuts in arts and humanities funding which has set in motion a dangerous commodification process that will have dire consequences for social mobility in the UK.

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