The tuition fees debate in the news.

‘The June general election in the UK has put student finance squarely back on the political agenda. The Labour Party’s election promise to abolish tuition fees proved popular with young voters, presumably particularly with young students and graduates.

At a time when political debate is normally dominated by the concerns of older voters, Jeremy Corbyn is seeking to address issues that concern the younger electorate. Student finance, along with housing, is one of the most explosive, not least because it provides such a clear example of the growing generational inequality in our society. 

The current system of student finance is highly inequitable, as well as increasingly expensive, and it is threatening to get out of control. Students are taking on debts of up to £50,000 and many will never earn enough to repay it in full, and this will land taxpayers with an estimated 43 per cent of the loan bill (and more, if fees are allowed to rise continuously)…

So, Jeremy Corbyn is right to pledge the abolition of the current funding scheme. However, his promise to return to funding higher education out of general taxation may not be the best alternative.

Higher education has become very expensive, with the total costs, including restored maintenance grants, coming to about £11 billion per year just for first degree students in English universities. As participation rates have risen to nearly 50 per cent, few countries, even in continental Europe, have been able to maintain completely free tuition, even if fees are generally much lower than they are in the UK.

Funding these costs entirely out of general taxation loads too much of the burden on non-graduate taxpayers. The argument that graduates should make some contribution to the costs of their higher education, from which they benefit financially, has generally been won.’ - Professor Andy Green in Times Higher Education 

‘More generally, we should press to increase the threshold from which all student loans are repaid to £25,000, to take into account inflation since the threshold was first set. In addition, we should propose the elimination of the 3 per cent interest charge above the retail price index on student debt. A 3 per cent real rate of interest is most unfair. The 6.1 per cent headline rate from September will be widely considered a real rip-off. It should be replaced by the pre-2012 scheme where debt was subject to an inflation uplift and no more. 

Another general election in the near future is not out of the question. We need to start work now on designing a fresh Higher Education and Research Act if needed. This should be an act that would provide intelligent regulation and sustainable financial support for a flourishing higher education system, rather than the current one that is hopelessly flawed with its failed philosophy and impossible intention of creating “perfect competition” in higher education.

A new government that can command a parliamentary majority to abolish undergraduate fees will need such an act. Such a government is a real possibility. Part of our non-party political responsibility to society is to work out feasible, funded practical policies that will help universities, whose progress is so essential for society, to thrive in the event of the election of HM Loyal Opposition and the enactment of its most memorable manifesto pledge.’ – David Green in Times Higher Education

‘May’s most senior minister, Damian Green, said Britain may need to have a national debate on the issue.

Damian Green is May’s most senior minister and suggested a ‘debate’ on tuition fees on Saturday.

Green was answering questions after a speech calling for Tory modernisation to win over young metropolitan voters who back Labour.

The First Secretary of State said current system allows UK universities to deliver high-quality courses and teaching, and accounts for the country’s disproportionate number of top institutions.

But he acknowledged that student debt was a “huge issue”, telling the Bright Blue liberal conservative think tank’s conference: “If you wanted to say you want to reduce that (fees) then either fewer people go to university or the experience would be less. 

“Because the only other way you can get extra money to go in, if you wanted the same number of people, the same kind of teaching, would be to take it from working people through their taxes. 

“Governments have to take money from everyone at work and companies that provide jobs to provide those essential services. 

“And it may well be that this is a national debate that we need to have.”’ – Huffington Post

‘Tuition fees have been a topic of particular contention in recent years. There were protests and rioting in 2010 after the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government voted to increase the cap, which was previously £3,000 a year.

Mr Green, who is in many respects Ms May’s deputy, also spoke of a range of policies that would be required to attract younger voters. He claimed that affordable homes and job creation must be at the centre of future party strategy.’ – Independent

‘The progressive argument in favour of tuition fees notes that graduates earn more than non-graduates, and says it therefore isn’t fair for everyone else to pay taxes to subsidise their education. In fact, if you make graduates pay for it all, you’re being progressive – taxing the rich.

The problem with this argument is that it only works on average: yes, on average, graduates earn more than non-graduates. But by using ‘graduate’ as a proxy for ‘rich’ you end up charging a whole load of people who study at university and don’t end up with high salaries.

The average nurse earns around £23,000 a year, putting them below the national average salary, which sits at around £27,000 for full-time workers. But the only way to become a nurse now is to get a degree and face the 9 per cent income tax hike. Primary school teachers start on salaries of £22,000, but by the logic of tuition fees, you can give yourself a big, progressive pat on the back for slapping a 9 per cent income tax on them.’ - Independent

 

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