Andy Burnham says he'll get rid of them—but does that make sense?by Prospect Team / August 6, 2015 / Leave a comment
The meteoric rise of Jeremy Corbyn over the last fortnight has ignited the Labour leadership contest, and policy measures are now storming in from all candidates. Today, Andy Burnham revived the issue of tuition fees, promising to scrap them in favour of a graduate tax. Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, Burnham vowed he would “lift the millstone of debt” from students. His plans are an extension of Labour’s election pledge to reduce the cap on tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000 a year. By invoking this emotive issue, Burnham presumably hopes to win over some of those drawn towards Corbyn.
But beyond the political, is there any justification in abolishing tuition fees?
Desperation, not good policy
Sam Bowman—Deputy Director of the Adam Smith Institute
There is little reason to scrap tuition fees. The Independent Commission on Fees found that they have “not put off students from disadvantaged backgrounds from applying to university,” and application rates are higher now than ever. Those people who predicted that tuition fees would put people off applying were wrong.
Nor is it distributionally progressive to scrap fees: the earnings repayment floor means that people only pay on annual earnings above £21,000, and most graduates will have a substantial portion of their fees written-off by the end of the 30-year repayment period. The system is designed to be progressive already, so reducing or abolishing fees will tend to help the better-off: according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Labour’s last pledge to reduce tuition fees would only have helped the top half of graduates. That was made in desperate times, and Burnham is no less desperate now. But good policy is not made by desperate men.
Yes, but no graduate tax
Sorana Vieru—Vice-President of the National Union of Students
The government’s £9000 fees policy has been an abject failure. As well as putting huge debt onto students’ shoulders it is a totally unsustainable way to fund our universities.
NUS is clear that higher education is a public good. It should be free and funded openly through the tax system.
A system of fees increases competition between universities, diverting more funds away from improving teaching and hiring more staff.
We reject the argument that the market drives quality of provision—if the introduction of tuition fees had achieved this then the current government wouldn’t be talking about introducing a Teaching Excellence Framework. Universities currently receive less funding, have to do more with less and will focus on increasing income from fees rather than investing in teaching.
We believe tuition fees should be scrapped, but a graduate tax is not the solution as this could mean a rise in tuition fees by stealth.