Higher Education for All?

January 24, 2003 ,

I HAD left school, but was lucky enough to have found a summer job in Llanwern Steelworks.

It was my turn to go to the canteen to get sandwiches and tea, but also a chance to ring up my old school for my A-Level results. I was hoping they'd be good enough to get me a place at university.

Both my mother and father left school at 14, because in their day it was not possible for most working class people to have access to higher education.

When I phoned the school, I found that I'd done very well in my exams. Much better than I thought was possible.

When I returned to the gang with the sandwiches and my news, one of them said ‘you ought to go to Oxford.'

Until then I had never considered it. But I thought, why not?

Soon after that, I applied, and following an interview and an exam I was offered a place.

Money never entered my mind. My dad was retiring from the steelworks and my mother's part-time cleaner's wage meant I would get a full grant. Everyone's student fees were paid.

I sometimes wonder if it would have been so straightforward now. As one of four children, I wonder if I would have been put off by the thought of student loans and years of debt, even if I was entitled to apply to have my fees paid.

This week's announcement by Charles Clarke in the House of Commons that the Government wants to get rid of up-front tuition fees, and follow the Welsh Assembly's lead by restoring student grants, was welcome.

But I can't help but feel that the best way to handle this issue would be to bring in a graduate tax.

I am a living example of how access to higher education for working class families can help people to reach this potential.

We need a system that recognises and fulfils the potential of people whatever their background. The minimum requirement to make that a reality is that those from less well off backgrounds don't believe that in order to go to college they have to go on the ‘never never.'

A graduate tax could fulfil the traditional Labour principle of ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.'