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Proposal – Is there is a class divide between young people who can afford tuition fees and young people from low income families who can’t?

1) Title of research project:

Is there is a class divide between young people who can afford tuition fees and young people from low income families who can’t?

2) Background and research problem:

UK nationals applying to start university next September in 2012 has plummeted by nearly 12%, with union leaders suggesting that the decision to almost treble fees has been disastrous. Charities have suggested that individuals from low-income families may have been deterred from applying to university (Shepherd, 2011). Forsyth and Furlong (2003, p.205) noticed that individuals who were in disadvantaged positions in regards to a university education, were those likely to have low levels of school achievement with low school achievement often found amongst low socio economic classes. It was also found that individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds were less likely to apply for university courses, even if they were academically suitable for the course. Christie and Munro (2003, p.621) have also suggested that students are not well informed in regards to the costs and benefits of furthering their education at university in regards to student loans. They also suggest that financial outcomes are not regarded as a private matter dealt with individually, but are created through cultural and familial resources. Sacks (2007, p.1) has suggested that there are astounding differences in opportunities for individuals who are from wealthy backgrounds compared to those that are from a working class upbringing. Sacks goes as far as to say that parents are often disillusioned by the education system, in the they feel that a child’s academic ability is able to give them the opportunities to access university education when in reality the financial capabilities of the parents are usually the predisposing factor (Ibid, p.2). In 2001, the education secretary noted that individuals from a middle-class upbringing were five times more likely to go to university than those from working-class backgrounds. She noted that;

“Universities are not a birthright for the middle classes. Richer kids are not brighter than poorer children.” (Clare & Clare 2001).

However, she was also able to divulge that if an individual was from middle-class backgrounds, they were more likely to achieve three A-levels than those from lower socio economic backgrounds. Difficulties here arise in determining whether the predisposing factor for being able to attend university is related to academic ability of financial standing, or even if they are inter related factors. This research aims to look at the difference between individuals who can comfortably afford the yearly university fee and those who are not in a financial position to do so and whether one of the main differences between them is their socio economic class. Recent literature has actually suggested that there is no difference between different pupils and their chance of attending university as long as they are able to reach significance and sufficient levels of academic achievement prior to admission; however findings have suggested that individuals of the lower socio economic background are more likely to drop out of university or fail to graduate (Powdthavee & Vignoles 2008, p.1). It should be noted at this point that every individual has the same access to student loans and in most circumstances these are not based on an individual’s financial history (Directgov 2011). For the average student studying in London, the maximum loan they are entitled to per year to cover fees and living costs is £16,675. Staying at university for the average three years will result in a debt of £50,000. These findings will be taken into account when designing the proposed research into the university class divide.

3) Methods for data collection and analysis:

To evaluate the differences between individuals who can afford university fees and those who cannot and analysis is proposed to investigate the socio economic background of a) students enrolled in a full-time course at university, b) students who have dropped out of university prior to graduating and c) individuals who did not go to university after obtaining A-levels. The predominant method of data collection in this piece of research will be that of quantitative methods,  incorporated within online questionnaires and postal questionnaires which also require demographic information. Individuals from all three of the aforementioned conditions will be invited to answer questions anonymously and confidentially regarding their socio economic status and parental earnings. The data received will be able to give an indication as to if there is a significant class divide in individuals who are attending a full-time course university, those who have dropped out and individuals who did not attend university after their A-levels. Questions will also be asked in regards to an individual’s desire to attend university and whether financial restrictions have acted as the constraint to their access to full-time university education. Qualitative methods will be incorporated into SPSS to allow for analysis of the data.

Preliminary hypotheses are that there will be significantly more individuals at university from middle-class backgrounds. Individuals who have dropped out of university/failed to graduate or decided not to go to university after A-levels will be from lower socio economic classes. It is also hypothesised that there will be clear difference between the parental earnings of individuals at university and those who are not university.

4) Potential problems and possible solutions:

The main issues that will be met when partaking in research such as the proposed will be access to participants. Using online surveys and questionnaire tools (such as survey monkey) will allow a much wider variety of individuals to partake by facilitating social networking sites and university websites alongside students currently enrolled in A-level programmes.

Other issues may result when individuals are asked about their socio economic background/parental wages due to the possible embarrassment caused. It is hoped that by ensuring participants that their data is confidential and anonymous it will encourage individuals to provide accurate details.

5) Potential impacts of research:

It is hoped the findings of this research may be able to inform government policy on the way in which funding is available to individuals from lower socio economic backgrounds. If the hypotheses are correct and it is found that individuals from middle-class backgrounds are more likely to attend university then government initiatives such as grants and scholarships could be made available.

6) Ethics:

Ethical considerations in this research are low. There is minimal risk of harm to participants, data is to be kept confidential, consent is to be given when partaking in the questionnaire/survey, participants will be informed their data can be removed at any time off until the pointer publication and participants will also be invited to have access to the data findings.

7) References:

Christie, H. & Munro, M., 2003. The Logic of Loans: Students’ Perceptions of the Costs and Benefits of the Student Loan. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 24(5), pp.621-636.

Clare, J. & Clare, J., 2001. Morris attacks class divide at university. The Telegraph. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1360257/Morris-attacks-class-divide-at-university.html [Accessed November 4, 2011].

Directgov, 2011. Student loans. Available at: http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/EducationAndLearning/UniversityAndHigherEducation/StudentFinance/Typesoffinance/DG_171539 [Accessed November 4, 2011].

Forsyth, A. & Furlong, A., 2003. Access to Higher Education and Disadvantaged Young People. British Educational Research Journal, 29(2), pp.205-225.

Powdthavee, N. & Vignoles, A., 2008. The Socio-Economic Gap in University Drop Out. Discussion Papers. Available at: http://econpapers.repec.org/paper/yoryorken/08_2f23.htm [Accessed November 4, 2011].

Sacks, P., 2007. Tearing down the gates: confronting the class divide in American education, University of California Press.

Shepherd, J., 2011. UK university applicants drop by 12% before tuition fee rise | Education | The Guardian. The Guardian. Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/oct/24/university-applicants-drop-tuition-fees?CMP=twt_gu [Accessed November 4, 2011].

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