Tuition fees – my last word (for now)

The rather wonderful OU Platform student blogger Caz has posted an article today presenting the arguments as to why student tuition fees should be increased. It certainly made me stop and think for a few minutes and then decide I was right to oppose the current proposals after all!

My response is in the comments to her article on Platform, but if you don’t fancy going over there, here’s what I said in full.

Great post – and I agree with almost none of it!

I’ve been ranting on and off about the coalition’s approach to the funding of tertiary education on my own blog for the last few months and rather than repeat all of the arguments I’ve made there, I’ll try to sum up why I think we should fund tertiary education from general taxation, rather than having (former) students pay for it by themselves.

1. Direct government funding of tertiary education pays for itself on both economic and social measures, according to a recent study by the OECD. Their stand-out conclusion in the press release which accompanies their report is:

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.

Net of the cost of degree courses, the long-term gain to the public exchequer averages USD 86 000 in OECD countries, almost three times the amount of public investment per student in tertiary education. Overall returns are even larger, as many benefits of education are not directly reflected in tax income.

2. The UK public, even in the current financial climate, overwhelmingly back the funding of tertiary education through general taxation. The HEFCE’s summer 2010 survey shows that only 2% of the population back a substantial reduction in funding for tertiary education (which is certainly what the £2.9bn/year cut in teaching budgets proposed by the coalition is by anyone’s standards).

So our investment as a society (through the taxes the government collects on our behalf) in tertiary education pays for itself in economic and social terms, and is thought to be a good thing by all but a few headbanging economic libertarians.

Personally, I’m so pleased that we have graduates who are now the scientists, doctors, social workers and all the other professionals who add to our wealth and well-being as a country because they decided that studying wasn’t too hard. They took the time and made the effort to succeed. We should be supporting all those who aspire to join them, not condemning them to years and years of debt repayment (or additional taxes for being successful) after graduation.

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Reader Comments

  1. Arnold

    For me, the problem isn’t so much with fee increases as such but that the substantial bill doesn’t arise until after they’ve received the qualification. What happens if a sizeable chunk decide to leave after they’ve picked up the qualification? You could end up in the situation where the very best qualified never pay for their courses.

    There’s also the problem that if a large enough proportion of people feel that it’s just too much cash for a run of the mill university (after all for £30k you can get a degree from Harvard’s distance learning outfit) you could get substantially less applicants. Presumably that nightmare scenario would result in substantially fewer students and if the £9k/year is set for “full funding” then that would mean another rise would be called for to balance the books.

    And of course there’s the “small” problem of the OU with fully funded courses costing under £3k full-time. I think that with £9k they’d have to ditch online tutorials and bring back F2F ones and summer schools in an attempt to use the cash!

Your thoughts?