The Enemy of “Widening Access”

A guest post by A Bitter Graduate

One of the conditions upon which Scottish universities receive government funding is a commitment to “widening access”. Widening access consists of both the attraction of and acceptance of applications from people of underprivileged backgrounds (measured primarily in the type of school they went to). The relative failure to widen access and open doors is something that is kept alive in our collective cultural consciousness not only through the oral tradition – we were told at school that it is harder for state school educated people to gain access to university than it is for their privately educated peers – but it has also been widely reported in a British or English context in the Guardian in particular but throughout mass media as a whole the last few years. I haven’t seen it reported in a specifically Scottish context which is interesting because the situation in Scotland is unique from the situation outside.

The Scottish government has proved itself toothless in its attempts to force Universities Scotland (the representative body for Scottish universities) to widen the crack in their doors. You can imagine the shit show that would ensue were the universities to turn on the government. So the government is pacified and filibustered and little changes. Which is not what Universities Scotland would tell you but the truly representative figures needed to create an accurate historical picture of university representation in Scotland by class is something you would need to pry from their cold and skeletal clutch.

The reason that the situation in Scotland is unique is that Scottish student’s tuition fees are subsidised by the government. The opposite of widening access is not “narrowing access”. The buzz word that represents the enemy of widening access is actually internationalization. Students from outside Scotland who study at Scottish universities pay a higher rate of tuition fee directly to the institution at which they study than that institution would receive in subsidised fees from the government for a Scottish student. So the universities – that are both businesses and registered charities – stand to profit from internationalization in a way that they do not from widening access. Each space occupied by a Scottish student represents a financial loss to the institution.

A few points are worth outlining about this phenomenon:

  1. Internationalization is the practice of economic whitewashing. Widening access facilitates access for a small amount of state school educated people. Internationalization replaces the Scottish fee-paying bourgeoisie student (denied them by fee subsidisation) with the International fee-paying bourgeoisie student. The fact that state school educated students find it harder to gain subsidised access than their privately educated peers is merely the boys’ club looking out for its own private members.
  2. Opposing internationalization is not xenophobic. To say that opposing internationalization is opposing diversity is wrong. Among those Scottish school pupils who struggle to gain subsidised access in universities are refugees, immigrants, descendants of Diasporas – a spectrum of cultures and heritages. It is not in the name of diversity that they are given the cold shoulder by the admissions systems. It is in the name of economic uniformity.
  3. Expressing disgust at the massive influx of English students to Scottish universities is neither xenophobic nor racist. It is a semantically weak expression which welcomes these criticisms by merit of its inaccuracy. These students’ nationality is merely the condition which allows their parents to pay that higher rate of tuition fee direct to the university. The massive number of English students in Scottish universities is a symptom of an insidious profiteering rife in the infrastructure of higher education in Scotland. It is nothing to do with England or English people. It is ultimately a question of class.
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