What do the Students want?

Ever since the UK government announced its plan to raise the cap of tuition fees that British universities are allowed to charge and to introduce changes in the student loan scheme, British students have filled the streets with protests,

"To pay? For education? No way!"

have gone on “strike” (whatever that is supposed to mean for a student) and have staged “sit-ins” at their universities. To no avail in the end, as the British parliament passed the amendments to higher education funding on 9 December 2010.

Although I am a student in the UK myself (of Philosophy and Economics), I have refused to participate in these protests, as it is not clear to me exactly what the students want. The are very outspoken about what they don’t want, but don’t seem to offer any alternatives.

Let’s examine the grievances in detail:

  1. The increase of the cap from 3,290 £ to 9,000 £: An increase in the cap of what universities are allowed to charge for undergraduate degrees does NOT equal an increase in fees. It signals only a potential increase to anywhere between 3,290 £ and 9,000 £. When students (and indeed university staff and media) keep on speaking of a ” rise in tuition fees to 9,000 £ per year”, that is simply wrong. We don’t know yet if universities will make use of this higher cap and which universities will do so at what level. I assume that the more sought-after universities like Oxford, Cambridge and LSE will most likely raise their fees quite high. But I also assume that many other universities won’t do so. Even now, not every student can attend the university of his or her choice, not only for financial reasons, but simply because places are limited.
  2. The burden of debt after graduation: Continuing with that error from argument # 1, students now always claim that everyone will graduate with a debt of 27,000 £. That is of course just as wrong. It might be that some students will have that debt-load upon graduation, but most students will have much less debt. And the new law actually increases the minimum salary that has to be attained before anything needs to be paid back from 15,000 £ to 21,000 £ per annum. Above this income threshold, repayment is capped at 9 % of the income. This is in fact a progressive graduate tax, which is only officially not a tax because then emigration from the UK would allow graduates to avoid the repayment. If part of the tuition fees still have not been paid back 30 years after the student’s graduation, his outstanding balance will be waived.
  3. The deterrent effect on students from lower income families: Because fees will not necessarily be higher, depending on the university of your choice, and because repayment will only set in once you reach a certain income, I fail to see any deterrent effect. If at all, the deterrent effect is caused by the distorting propaganda of the protesting students about “mountains of debt”. Higher income for universities should actually lead to more available places in higher education which will benefit those who so far would not have had a chance to enter university.

As a student myself, I find it absolutely fair to pay for my education, as I will be the one who will reap the (intellectual and financial) benefits of it. I wouldn’t want people who never want or will become students to have to pay for my personal advancement with their taxes.

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About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a journalist, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in Economics, Education, Politics, UK and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to What do the Students want?

  1. Why don’t you go and talk to a student demonstrator instead of parroting government propaganda? Your whole post is very similar to Vince Cable’s justifications.

    • Sinan Kurt says:

      That’s not propaganda, we call it “criticism”. If nobody would write stuff like that, who could read that then?
      Kurt

  2. infradog says:

    Andreas, a very good summing-up and one formed objectively and without recourse to emotion and political prejudice. I think, as you said, the lack of clarity about what the students actually want (and the markedly vague, circuitous and evasive dialogue by their leaders) is telling. This policy exacts repayment only when the repayments can be afforded – and at reasonable terms.

    I believe the reality of much of this is about an upwelling of tribalist sentiment by the Guardian-reading sons and daughters of ‘leftish, progressive-ish’ parents who themselves became ‘radicalised’ through their disaffection toward the 80s Thatcher administration and who are now so virulently outraged that democracy has brought another Tory (-led) government.

    Far from being a nationwide protest movement as it’s being hyped, it’s a very fringe glee-club for those indulged offspring, with the added incitement and ire-inducing notion their sense of righteous entitlement having been offended. It’s by no means a popular protest (the last was probably the poll-tax ones 20 years ago) and in response to the other who replied (in the incoherent fashion generic of her comrades-in-arms): Donnacha, why don’t you go and speak to any of the great majority of people in the country who work and who don’t recognize you have any justifications whatsoever?

    • Denny says:

      Donnacha was in no way incoherent – her comment is short, in correct English, and perfectly coherent.

      Try to steer clear of ad hominems, particularly inaccurate ones.

    • Denny says:

      (Kurt was a little incoherent, but as English isn’t his first language I think it would be unfair to pick on him for that, don’t you?)

  3. Denny says:

    As your points 2 and 3 rely on your point 1, you basically only have one point here, which is that you don’t believe all universities will raise their fees. I hope you post a follow-up on this when all the universities have announced what their new fees will be.

    • It will be a few years until we will know what the fee (and loan and scholarship) structure will look like at universities across the board, but yes, I am looking forward to posting about this again in 2012.

  4. Lulu says:

    I am glad that you picked up the fact that the fee increase is actually going to be possibly beneficial to the low income student- it seems that it is the middle-class student who will lead out, which really has not been portrayed well by the media at all.

    Thanks for reading my blog it was a really exciting event to cover as a journalist. Keep tuned in, my blog is going to have a more international/journalistic slant for the new year. Lulu.

  5. Doug says:

    I think your argument relies on the idea that graduates should be the only ones making a contribution to the costs of higher education – a case which you don’t make clearly but is I imagine related to this snippet:

    “I will be the one who will reap the (intellectual and financial) benefits of it”

    I think the idea that education is only beneficial to the person receiving it, is almost completely impossible to support. An educated populous is a more civilised populous, oppressive regimes the world over have in the past sought to limit education to only those who would be compliant for the simple reason that one well educated person can have such a profound impact on those around them.

    It’s similar for other situations, well educated people have a positive impact on society as a whole and reducing the benefit of education to base financial terms is a pretty ideologically motivated thing to do.

    As someone who teaches for a living I find it very worrying that anyone thinks that their education is purely for their own benefit, don’t hide your light under a bushel, your education is only for you if you do nothing with it.

  6. Richard says:

    Despite the financial crisis, a large amount of money is being wasted by government and local councils. If we had a £60k cap on all public sector salaries, and stopped government departments wasting millions on consultants, to name just two ways of saving money, we might have more money for higher education.

    Also, it’s not just students who benefit from a degree. Doctors, teachers and nurses all need degrees to get into their chosen profession, and we all benefit from their knowledge.

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