University tuition fees

With all the discussion and publicity surrounding University tuition fees, I thought I would add my views as a Labour Party member and University academic.

I have always believed that all education, including higher education, should be free to everyone who can benefit from it, and that it should be financed from taxation.  This means that any person offered a university place should get their tuition fees paid. In that way I strongly opposed Labour’s introduction of tuition fees, and was encouraged by the LibDem pledge to abolish them if elected, unlikely as such an event seemed at the time (but more on that later).

In answering the argument that it is unfair that general taxation should support tuition fees,  all I would say is that the whole country benefits from having an educated population, and taxes should be used where possible to benefit the country. Everyone pays taxes to support the NHS, for example, but use of it varies. So it is quite logical to include education in the same way, as something which benefits everyone in the long run.

The policy of the coalition government is, of course, entirely contrary to this.  They want to move the majority of the cost of teaching in the universities from taxation to students tuition fees. If this happens, the landscape of higher education will be changed for ever. One consequence is that universities will only be able to offer those courses that are currently popular, since they won’t be able to fund courses without student fees. The implications of that just don’t bear thinking about, and it might be the subject of a future post.

Considering the position of the LibDems now, it is clear that they should stick to their pre-election pledge and vote against the fees bill. It’s no good using excuses like ‘you didn’t vote for us in sufficient numbers’. A pledge is a pledge, period. The behaviour of the likes of Nick Clegg and Vince Cable, who will seemingly do anything for power, is simply beneath contempt.  Abstaining isn’t an option either, Vince! But it remains to see how many of them stick to their principles in next Thursday’s vote.

I am very sad to see what is happening to Higher Education in England. If the proposed system (or even the present one) had applied when I was 18, I would never have gone to university, and I know this applies to many people, some of whom are the architects of the new policies. The only hope is that if the fees bill is defeated next week, the government will be forced to think again. But I’m not at all optimistic that either will happen.

 

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4 thoughts on “University tuition fees”

  1. Third para. You’re kind of skimming over the actual argument. Use of the NHS “varies”, yes, but it’s a hell of a lot less “variable” than universities. It is in theory conceivable that anyone might have to use the NHS, at any time. It is inconceivable that everyone in Britain should want, need or be academically able to “go to university” in order to live and work happily. If you took the population of Britain today and were able to record who did and didn’t make use of the NHS at some point over their lifetime, I’d be prepared to bet quite a lot on its being more than 50%.

    The NHS has both an immediate benefit to *most* people and a general benefit to all, immediate in that they will probably use it themselves at some point, and general in that it’s just a nice thing to have, a wider benefit to society. Tertiary education also has a wider benefit to all. But it only has direct, immediate benefits for about 50% (assuming, of course, that all these people actually derive net benefit from it, which some may question).

    So, on any scale comparing public services, tuition fees would score equally to the NHS on general benefit and lower on direct benefit.

    This doesn’t mean that it’s a *given* that the state should not fund university tuition. But equally, it is clearly not a given that it should. It’s an argument about where to draw that line, and it’s not a simple argument. I don’t think anyone does their cause any favours by pretending that there are any absolutes here.

  2. I couldn’t agree more with the original post. Tuition fees are changing the face of academia and as someone specialising in a discipline where the benefits are not at all monetary or tangible or measurable yet of enormous cultural value (archaeology), I wonder how many students will opt to study such humanities subjects in the coming years. With more universities charging the maximum fee possible, job prospects not looking good and appalling rates of pay for graduates, many potential students will simply be put off from applying.

    I would much rather have a system whereby more funding comes through general taxation or at least where more bursaries and scholarships are available so that financial barriers do not inhibit entry for students.

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