Educational Apartheid

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By Mike Small, Editor

Scotland was the first country since Sparta in classical Greece to implement a system of general public education. Schooling was made compulsory for the first time in Scotland with the Education Act of 1496 since it forced all nobles and freeholders to educate their eldest sons in Latin, followed by the Arts, and Scots law. In 1561, the Kirk set out a national programme for spiritual reform, including a ‘school in every parish’. Education continued to be a matter for the church rather than the state until the Education Act of 1872. For over two hundred years Scotland had a higher percentage of its population educated at primary, secondary and tertiary levels than any other country in Europe.

For decades a belief in education as a key part of our democratic culture has been proudly asserted, if often undermined and abandoned in practical terms.

It’s in this context that Angus Macleod, Scottish editor of Murdoch’s Times yesterday wrote a piece talking about educational apartheid (‘SNP plans to triple tuition fees for English students’) in response to the Scottish Government’s Green Paper.

In the nominally ‘Scotland Edition’ (I think it means adding Macleod to the front page and Graham Spiers to the back) Macleod cites the NUS in London giving ‘warning’ to Alex Salmond. The Times Scotland (sic) quotes the discredited Aaron Porter saying the Green Paper proposals had “not been thought through” and “need to be reconsidered urgently”.

It’s not clear who’s more irate, the Times ‘Scotland Edition’ or the NUS. Certainly the sub-heading is ‘Students vow to oppose ‘educational apartheid.’ But it seems like the tail wagging the dog. It makes little sense.

To re-cap. The Tory government in London, supported by the Liberal Democrats are imposing the wholesale transformation of private education in England. Yet to set a different course in a devolved matter is condemned.

Presenting the Paper to Parliament, Mike Russell said:

“We believe the state must bear the primary responsibility for funding our universities.The challenges facing higher education are clear. The solutions, however, are complex, further complicated by the fact that Scotland does not have full power of its own finances and the £1.3 billion cut to next year’s budget. We have encouraged bold and innovative thinking to find a unique solution, encompassing a range of measures to deliver sustainable higher education in Scotland. Only one idea is off the table and that’s tuition fees.”

So there’s now the potential for clear water between the SNP and Labour in May over education after a technical working group involving Universities Scotland report to a reconvened cross party summit in February.

As Iain Macwhirter, Rector of Edinburgh University has written:

“The Welsh government will charge English and EU students in their universities the cost of their tuition, and there is no reason why Scotland could not do the same. At present EU students pay nothing, and English students pay just over £1000. If the Government wants to introduce £9000 fees for England, let them go ahead. But there is no reason why the Scottish Government should subsidise English fees in Scottish universities, when the cash could be put to better use. The money from English and EU students would go a long way to eliminating the funding gap.

People will claim this is discrimination, educational apartheid even. Well, let them. Browne has changed everything. It wasn’t Scotland’s choice to impose crippling debts on students.

It really is a bizarre piece of analysis to argue that in defending Scotland from the imposition of tuition fees the Scottish Government is creating ‘educational apartheid’. If anything this is what we already have.  Only 31,000 students are educated in private schools in Scotland. The primary mode of selection is financial. Only a small minority of parents can afford school fees averaging over £23,000 per annum for boarding pupils and £11,000 for day pupils

Of course the current Conservative leader and Prime Minister, David Cameron was educated at Eton (and the Conservatives Chancellor George Osborne attended St Paul’s School), while Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne were both educated at the same independent school, Westminster School.

With the exception of Charles Kennedy, all other past leaders of the Liberal Democrat party, including David Steel, Paddy Ashdown, and Menzies Campbell, were educated at fee-paying schools.

In 2003, 84% of senior Judges in England and Wales were educated at independent schools, as surveyed in 2003 by law firm SJ Berwin. This is especially significant considering that just 7% of all British children are educated at independent schools. If you want to talk about an educational apartheid this is it, the basis for maintaining the political elite and the core of the British establishment.

A report last year by the Sutton Trust  showed that pupils from private schools make twice as many applications to the UK’s leading universities as state school teenagers with similar A-level or Higher results. The report found that teenagers educated privately were three times more likely to apply to leading universities – including Edinburgh and St Andrews – than those at further education colleges.

Apartheid means ‘separate development’, the separation and segregation of groups in society. We have educational apartheid here and now.