As a way of distracting myself, I’ve been looking through Education at a Glance 2010: OECD Indicators and becoming increasingly convinced that UK politicians of all parties are missing the point about the funding of higher education.
The OECD’s stand-out conclusion?
Even after taking account of the cost to the public exchequer of financing degree courses, higher tax revenues and social contributions from people with university degrees make tertiary education a good long-term investment.
The £2.9bn cut per year to university teaching budgets is therefore far worse than it seems. If students are put off going to university because of the 30 year tax/debt/contribution (call it what you will) burden they’ll end up with, the UK will lose out in terms of future tax revenues.
If they’re not put off, then we’ll end up having to support them with additional public funding when they retire (the 9% graduate contribution above £21,000 is about what I’ve managed to save of my income through pension payments over the last 25 years or so).
So the short term ‘saving’ will pretty soon become a financial penalty on the UK economy, every bit as bad, if not worse than, the interest we pay on the UK deficit.
In fact the cut may have worse consequences than purely economic ones. The OECD also measures the social benefits of a tertiary education (See indicator A9). It shows that those who have experienced tertiary education in the UK are healthier, take a more active interest in politics and society (are you listening, David Cameron?) and display higher levels of interpersonal trust.
So my message to politicians of all parties is simple – “a plague on both your houses“.
Labour – for introducing and trebling tuition fees when you were in power, despite your manifesto pledges not to do so and for commissioning the Browne review.
The coalition – for being suckered in by Browne and appearing to want to go one better than Labour by trebling student contributions yet again.