The tuition fee debate is more complex than it looks—and comparisons with Europe don't always work. But there are things that the UK could address immediatelyby Martin Greenacre / January 15, 2018 / Leave a comment
When only half of student loans are likely to be repaid, it is clear that our tuition fee policy is broken. If rumours are to be believed, even some within the Tory party think so. Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell argue that there is a simple solution: scrap tuition fees. After all, university is either free or incredibly cheap in most European countries.
The French example
In France, free public universities seem an attractive prospect. For most undergraduate degrees, you only need to pay 184 euros of administrative fees each year. Higher education has long been considered a fundamental right across the channel. Until this year, French public universities could not select their students, requiring simply the equivalent of any A-levels.
In practice, however, this means university is often treated as a continuation of further education, and many students sleepwalk into university without giving it much thought.
The result is that just 27 per cent of French students complete their undergraduate degree in the usual three years. 30 per cent leave after their first year, compared to around 10 per cent of British students, meaning resources are even more stretched and class sizes even larger in first year.
The most ambitious (read: well-off) students often apply to private universities, leaving the rest behind, while public universities contend with increasingly scarce resources.
A different model
The French approach to university also has an effect on student life. Since public universities are largely homogenous, most students go to their local university. Like many British students, when I undertook an Erasmus year in France, I was surprised to see the student halls empty every weekend as everybody went home with bags of washing.
Nor was there the plethora of student societies I was used to. I could not help but feel that local students were missing out on what university had been for me: an opportunity to move somewhere new, try new things and meet people from all over the world.
Meanwhile, in Scotland…
Closer to home, proponents of free education often point to Scotland as proof that universities can survive without charging fees. Scottish and EU students receive free tuition at Scottish universities.
Yet, in order for this to…