The government has announced plans for a new app – not too dissimilar to ‘Go Compare’ – that compares the outcomes of university graduates. It is intended to help students from ‘poorer’ backgrounds to better understand which universities are best for them. However, some have criticised the the app as a small gesture far outweighed by increases in tuition fees and the removal of maintenance grants.
The scheme is the brainchild of Universities Minister Sam Gyimah. The proposed app is designed to help those without an ‘inbuilt advantage’, who are less able to access elite establishments, decide what and where to study.
Universities Minister @SamGyimah visited @imperialcollege to test the prototype digital tools, developed by 5 UK tech companies, aimed at helping young people make informed decisions when choosing university course: https://t.co/UeGaaRZZqj pic.twitter.com/JMueCcxeSW
— DfE (@educationgovuk) November 2, 2018
Gyimah explained that he was “very aware that the school and social background can give you a huge advantage in making choices about higher education.”
This, he argues, is why he has launched a £125,000 competition for companies to develop digital tools to make student outcome data accessible for all. Unveiling the top five prototypes at Imperial College London, he added that lots of university students he has encountered are not aware of the ‘Russell Group’ and therefore don’t factor it into their selection process.
However, Gyimah’s assertion that the app will help to ‘level the playing field’ for prospective university students from disadvantaged backgrounds has been under scrutiny. The scheme’s critics have argued that the app will only scratch the surface of the ingrained inequality in higher education. Such inequality has been reinforced by recent government policies such as the removal of maintenance grants.
“It is a partial initiative that will have little positive impact on prospective students”
Shakira Martin, President of National Union of Students (NUS), said that whilst “it is encouraging” that the Universities Minister is focusing on disadvantaged students, it is yet again “a partial initiative that will have little positive impact on prospective students”. She believes that the issues lie within the “ingrained processes” of elite institutions and that these perspectives need to be shifted and that an app is “unlikely to do this.”
The govt. hopes a digital tool which compares graduate outcomes will help poorer students understand how a degree from the "right uni" uni helps their futures but critics say it'll take more than an app to fix issues in #WideningAccess to #HigherEducationhttps://t.co/2qqh5XjWFd
— NEON (@NEONHE) November 6, 2018
Whilst it is true that universities have made progress in widening access to disadvantaged students, there is still a long way to go; most of the highly selective universities remain a privilege for the economic elite with limited access and participation from less advantaged sections of society.
Furthermore, students from lower-income households are more worried about post-student debt. With tuition fees at such astronomical levels, there are lots of students who feel that they are being given insufficient advice on how to manage their money during their studies and subsequently find themselves struggling with basic living costs.
Government cuts have often hit the poorest and most marginalised communities the most. In order to allow access and success for all, the government must present a total overhaul to the funding system. Until then, initiatives like this one are likely to fall short in the eyes of the public, particularly amongst those currently in higher education who can see the depths of a problem that no app can fix.