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,
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.