A great many young people will be collecting their A-level results today and regardless of what they find they should be proud of getting through what is a stressful and nervous time. Tens of thousands who have worked hard and achieved their grades should be congratulated on their achievements and not belittled. Too often discussion on A-level results day focuses on the shortcomings of our education system rather than celebrating the achievements of students and teachers up and down the country.
At a time when young people are facing an onslaught from every angle, we should take the opportunity today to properly congratulate them on their achievements, especially when, through no fault of their own, many now risk a very nervous wait and the very real prospect of disappointment.
Many of those who get their A-level results today will be hoping to go on to university. Some will be disappointed and have to go through clearing or reconsider their options. There is plenty of advice around, including the UCAS Clearing Helpline on 0871 468 0468 and the UCAS website - http://www.ucas.com/.
The fact remains that creating barriers to college or university, real or perceived, makes very little sense - particularly at a time when the jobs market is already so competitive and when education is so vital to economic recovery. From tuition fees to scrapping EMA, a two tier admissions system or the shambles of the National Scholarship Programme, I don't envy those trying to navigate applying to university this year.
Many of these policies are enshrined in the anticipated the recently published higher education White Paper, which claims to put students at the heart of the system. It does nothing of the sort.
Whilst the choices students make will certainly have a significant impact on the higher education landscape, this isn't in any sense a meaningful empowerment. Yes, the flow of students to different institutions will lead some institutions to succeed, while other institutions fail. Some universities will be particularly savvy at finding ways of attracting the 'AAB' students. Meanwhile, some institutions will produce 'cut-price' degrees in subjects that are cheap to provide, without offering the wider provision that is traditionally a part of the university experience.
Both of these processes will occur through exercising choice. But let's be clear, that is the choice of whether to leave a university or never apply in the first place. I don't know where the student is at this point, but it's certainly not at the 'heart of the system'. These policies run in stark contrast to the interests and expressed wishes of the vast majority of students.
Asking students to apply to university based on 'value for money' is not meaningful if what the student really wants is a sustainable and coherent system in which universities are not failing, departments are not collapsing, and universities are able to spend time providing the best possible education rather than offer discounts and other financial incentives to attract student 'consumers' and the slice of funding that flows them.
The Government have justified their decision to increase the tuition fee cap and to load students with a Push-predicted average of almost £60,000 worth of debt by saying that more support will be available to poorer students. But this is a sleight of hand. As the independent Higher Education Policy Institute says in a report published today, the Government's funding changes and structural proposals will leave social mobility an "unintended victim" and access to elite institutions will be restricted further still.
Those who have received their A-level results today and have got a university place to look forward to face significant financial pressures. The gap between available financial support and the true cost of living whilst at university remains enormous - last year, NUS found the funding shortfall for students studying in London to be £6,800, whilst for students outside London it was as high as £7,340. Students with average family incomes had £37.28 per week inside London and £22.79 per week outside London left to live on from their student support after paying for their housing and utilities costs - figures which clearly compare unfavourably to the £51.85 per week given to young Jobseekers' Allowance claimants, which is perhaps a useful indicator of the amount Government believe people can subsist on.
Meanwhile, the Government's National Scholarship Programme will add further confusion next year to an already confused support system, which has led to institutions rushing to introduce fee waivers rather than money in students' pockets. Bursaries and scholarships can make a crucial and immediate difference, particularly for those from poorer backgrounds who are at risk of dropping out due to money problems, but insubstantial partial fee waivers are an elaborate con trick.
And all the while, we'll have to continue to call for expanded university numbers to provide for all those qualified applicants who have worked hard in order to achieve the required grades and yet still found the door closed for them.
To leave people to sink or swim is not acceptable and ministers must give those who have received their results today both hope and opportunity. To those who are entering university, there are significant challenges ahead - and we need to come together to put continue to strongly state the need for the Government to rethink its incoherent and ill-thought out reforms, and to instead to invest in our future.