In many ways, my political beliefs and opinions are painfully cliche, at 20 years old and a student I’m a left-wing, Corybnista, remoaner … I’m pro-nationalisation, pro-choice, pro-EU and don’t even get me started on nuclear disarmament. However, where me and Jezza have always locked horns is tuition fees. Now that Mrs May wants to reduce them I’m probably against the idea even more, and I hate to say it but I think David Cameron and Nick Clegg were right. Theo Giles reports
Now, let’s not get our wires crossed, there are many things wrong with the way students pay for higher education – the system is in no way perfect. As the Prime Minister said today in Derby: we do “now have the most expensive systems of university in the world” but it is also worth remembering we have some of the best universities in the world too.
Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College London all feature in the planets top 10. The rest of the list are American universities apart from the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. Both Switzerland and the United States charge for university education.
So for us to completely scrap tuition fees as suggested by Corbyn would put us in the dangerous position of funding universities in the same way as France, Spain, and Italy while still trying to provide a world class education. I worry that standards would fall and we like the rest of our industry fall off the map.
One of my major gripes with the system is the astonishingly high pay of the people in charge of these schools. Bath Spa university found itself in the eye of a storm after it was revealed that their ex-vice chancellor, Christina Slade, £800,000 in her final year – £425k of that was a golden handshake. This is ludicrous. To think that we live in a society in which 250,000 students in the UK are using sugar daddies to fund their education whilst we have a vice chancellor is getting paid two £200k short of a £1m is sickening.
Just to prove how ridiculous this is I made some calculations: with the same money Christina Slade was given by Bath Spa as her leaving present, 78 of their poorest students could have had free accommodation for a year in one of their halls of residences.
Social mobility should be at the centre of this debate. Of course we need to make sure that any young person can go to any university and do any course if they have the ability, their background and how much their parents earn should have no bearing.
However, as the students see none of the money they borrow for their tuition fees I don’t think lowering it will help. Where the money matters is maintenance loans as this is the money students see straight away. We need to revise the process in which we decide how much a student gets from the government to spend on living and rent. If all students got higher maintenance loans then social mobility would improve as everyone could afford to actually live at uni.
As it stands students repay nine percent of all of their earnings over the salary threshold, which now stands at £21k but will change to £25k in April. This means a medicine graduate, who typically earns £37k a year after graduating will pay back £1,080 a year. Which, if we are honest with each other, is not a lot. The loan is also cancelled after 30 years and it is predicted that only 17% of graduates are going to pay the full amount back.
So, who will lowering tuition fees help? Well, first and foremost it will help the parents who are rich enough to pay all of their child’s fees upfront. After that it will help the top 17% of earners who will pay back less. So in reality this is only going to help the highest earners in society. Which is okay if you have completed a degree which typically puts you in a well-paid job, or if you have rich parents – not exactly great for social mobility.
However, what Cameron and Clegg did by raising the tuition fee from £3k to £9k under the coalition is provided more immediate funds for universities from the highest earners in our society and from the rich parents that can afford the £27k outright fee.
What’s the answer you ask? Well as always there isn’t one simple answer.
I think there is a lot the government can work on. I think the re-introduction of grants to poorer students is part of the answer, along with an increased maintenance loan for all students. I also feel there is a case for variable fees. To pay £9k a year to be medically trained with access to cutting-edge equipment and teaching, to then get a job earning just shy of £40k per annum a year after graduating doesn’t seem like a bad deal. However the sticky end of the wicket is to pay £9k to study literature, in which you have to pay for the complete works of Shakespeare yourself, to then end up earning £19k one year after graduating.