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Access to higher education - the next frontier

Access to higher education - the next frontier

What can the next generation of young people expect when it comes to higher education?

Basic education in the UK is a right, higher education is not. Nevertheless, the days when university education was only available to those from privileged backgrounds, with only a few genuinely gifted others, is very much over. The government in the UK, whether politically left or right, has a commitment to increase the number of people benefitting from higher education. This is because the evidence is clear - higher education is the best way to help future generations boost a knowledge-based economy, enhance productivity and create a more socially harmonious society.

Today, around half of all young people go to university. The obvious flip-side of this statistic is that around half of the population do not get the opportunity to reap the wide-ranging rewards of higher education. When you consider that, for several past generations, less than half the population went to university, you quickly realise that university educated people in this country are very much in the minority. This is a great shame; it means that talent is being wasted and this is bad, not just for the individual, but for society as a whole.

There are two very important points here. The first concerns those who disregard the higher education system and move straight into work after school. Currently, too many young people who decide to skip higher education don't consider accessing education later in their careers. There needs to be greater acceptance and encouragement of mature study - it should be the norm for people who didn't want to move into higher education straight out of school to be able to access it later in their life.

The second point is in relation to those who experience higher education immediately after secondary school. Many of these people only experience this type of education between the ages of 18 and 24. The idea that someone is capable of acquiring all required knowledge before the age of 24 is simply absurd; real career boosts, changes or even simply career survival, depend on the ability and willingness to access to education at any age.

I fully understand the cost implications of a huge expansion of access to higher education. But higher education is about more than just money; it's about the future of our society. Higher education is never going to be cheap, but everyone in society can see the wider social and economic benefits that it brings.

The modern access agenda is as relevant for someone who is 18 as to someone who is 50, and any age in between and above. Access to education is no longer just about getting a privileged start; it is about being able to enjoy a successful and fulfilling life. Embracing this new access frontier will be challenging, requiring a change in mind-set both as a nation and as individuals. But it is a frontier that can be reached.


This article was originally published in The Huffington Post.

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