Archive for November, 2010

Tuition Fees

November 10th, 2010

I drafted this on the day the Browne report was published, and then decided it was too boring to post.  I post it now as point 6 came true today and I wish I’d posted it before so I could seem prophetic.  Students are angry at the Lib Dems, say the media – they were betrayed.  So why are they breaking windows at the Conservative Party offices?

Ahhhh, tuition fees.  I’ve spent about eight years talking about tuition fees.  Part of me would love to write a lengthy and referenced summary of the arguments on this blog in the naïve idea that I was contributing to a wider debate.

However, having spent eight years talking about tuition fees, I have learned enough to know that such a post would be pointless.  Instead, I offer you some baseless predictions and observations.

1.       There is no ‘reasoned argument’ to be had about tuition fees that involves institutions or students.  Institutions will repeat, ad infinitum, that they are broke and need more money to make it through another year.  They always make it through the next year.  Likewise, students will say they are broke and debt will stop them from going to university, right up until the point that they sign the loan forms.

2.       Taxpayers, the majority of whom did not attend University, resent the idea that their taxes should pay for others to do so (with the exception of those who are parents with children aged 16-21).

3.       The government will succeed in doing whatever they plan to do, as they have on the last two occasions, because, despite the media headlines and students moaning, there is quite a low political cost (sulking 18-24 year old undergrads, who become far less fussed when they become taxpayers).  Also, there are far more graduates than undergraduate students, which is why a graduate tax would have a high political cost.

4.       Those who talk lovingly about the days of the full grant forget that the full grant supported far fewer students attending even fewer universities.  There are now 130 Universities and a further 122 Further Education Colleges in receipt of funds from the Higher Education Funding Council.  If anyone could point me towards some figures from the time, I would be very grateful, but in my ignorance I guess that there were around 50 Universities in 1970.

5.       I am very very idealistic.  I think you should want to study a degree because a) your passion is a vocational subject, and the degree is prerequisite qualification for a job in that field (Medicine, Veterinary Science, Engineering, Law, Architecture etc.) or b) your passion is a particular subject and you wish to study it out of pure interest with no particular job in mind.  I don’t think either group would be massively dissuaded by higher fees because the earlier group will make a financial calculation and decide it will pay for itself, and the second group are not making a financial calculation at all.  Those that fall into neither category, and have been told that a degree in anything will bolster their employment prospects for any job have received awful careers advice and are right to think very carefully about whether they will get a return on their investment when compared to an extra 3 years early entry into the job market.

6.       There was a time in British history when student action was a genuinely worrying prospect.  This time has long past, and the NUS will be as ineffective at opposing the increase this time as it has been the last two times.  They will, however, be more vitriolic in their opposition, as they no longer need to tread carefully when considering their personal future in politics.  Their desired employer is now the opposition and not the party suggesting the increase.

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