21 July 2012

The onward march of egalitarianism

Prior to the 1939-45 war, getting university fees paid if you, or your parents, could not afford them depended on showing remarkable academic achievement (correlated with very high IQ).

For a time, there were State Scholarships which were regarded as exceptional. They were dependent on getting several distinctions in the exam normally taken at age 18, now called A-levels (though of course quite different in intellectual difficulty from what was taken then).

I got a State Scholarship at 16, regarded as a young age. At the time there were third years of the Sixth Form, and some people stayed on at school until 19 in order to try to get State Scholarships, or at least to do well on the S-level papers. S-level (scholarship) papers were more demanding than A-level papers.

But although the State Scholarship gave me a notional cachet as compared with a County Scholarship, it did not give me (at the time I took it) any financial advantage. All those who had their university fees topped up by the state had them topped up to the same level and received the same amount to live on.

I also got the top scholarship to Somerville College, known as the Senior Open Scholarship, but this also was a cachet and no more. A fraction of my fees was paid by the college, the rest by the state.

From that time on, the number of people going to university each year increased continuously, all receiving a similar level of financial support, regardless of ability.

By now about 50% of the population attends university or similar institutions. The fees have about trebled, and those who get bursaries or subsidies are those from the poorest families, which is in fact most likely to favour the lowest IQs.

Those with the highest IQs are now at no advantage relative to any other university entrant from a middle-class family, and have to acquire enormous loans (likely to be over £50,000 for those starting in 2012) in order to complete their university courses.

Pre-Welfare State, the highest IQs were at an advantage in getting the few scholarships available; now they are bracketed with the middle class at large in being discouraged by the prospect of debt, quite apart from any discrimination practised against them during the admissions process. Debt, one may surmise, is likely to deter the higher IQs the most, as they are likely to be more forethoughtful and existentially aware.

Only those with the ‘poorest’ backgrounds will be actively encouraged by getting their fees paid, and by various ‘outreach’ strategies that are being pursued. Those with the highest IQs, who would formerly have had the best chances of State Scholarships, are unlikely to fall into this category. To have such an IQ implies at least a fairly high IQ on the part of both parents, and at least one of them is likely to have a reasonable income.