Getting rid of fees won't make a fair deal for students, but neither will keeping them as they areby Lucy Webster / August 11, 2015 / Leave a comment
With my third year of university on the horizon, I have spent two years engaged in the debate over student fees, which in recent weeks has returned to the mainstream, with the release of a new report on the government’s approach, and two Labour leadership candidates pledging free tuition at the point of delivery. I take a middle view, somewhere between those calling for free education and the current government’s elitist higher education policy.
Tertiary education should not be free. Unlike healthcare or basic education, it is a privilege and generates great rewards. But it should be fair, which means ensuring value for money and making it easier for those from disadvantaged backgrounds to afford. According to a new report from the Independent Commission on Fees, set up in 2012 to evaluate the impact of higher university tuition fees, this is far from the case. While some of the problems expected when the new fees were introduced have been avoided or mitigated, the government and the industry still have a lot to do.
Going to university weighs on someone’s mind from before they go until decades after they have graduated. Some 78 per cent of 16-18-year-olds are “very” or “fairly” concerned about the cost of living as a student, the commission found. Some 68 per cent are concerned about high tuition fees and 58 per cent are worried about having to repay student loans after their studies have finished.
They are right to worry; the Commission also found that many of today’s graduates will be paying off their debts until they are in their 50s, when they will likely have mortgages and their own children’s education to contend with. Despite this, the commission estimates that three-quarters of loans will not be resolved by the time they are written off 30 years after graduation, with the exchequer only recouping about 55 per cent of the money it is owed.
Things are only going to get worse. In last month’s Budget, George Osborne announced the scrapping of maintenance grants for students from disadvantaged backgrounds and a decision to allow tuition fees to increase in line with inflation, perhaps seeing them reach £10,000 a year by 2020. Students are going to have more and more debt.