Following her electoral humbling last year, Theresa May has been eager to try and win back the youth vote, who overwhelmingly backed Jeremy Corbyn, and his tantalising offer of abolishing tuition fees. As a result, the government has indicated that tuition fees could be cut to £6,500. There are several reasons why this policy is short sighted and a waste of money.
Firstly, assuming the government doesn’t impose a cap on the number of students going to university, the policy would cost the Treasury and extra £3 billion a year. In an age where the NHS, schools, and social services (amongst other public services) are all seeing their budgets shrink and are fighting for every penny. Such a policy would clearly be a complete misallocation of taxpayers’ money. This is further underlined by the fact that since tuition fees were trebled in 2012, admissions to university have soared, whilst the number of students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds has never been higher. Cutting tuition fees would therefore be a regressive policy as it would essentially see more affluent students see their tuition fees subsidies through the tax contributions of ordinary working people. Additionally, if the government decides to impose a cap as well, then the number of disadvantaged students securing places at university will almost certainly plummet.[pullquote]The real issue, which May and Corbyn have both missed, is the issue of value, not the fees themselves. [/pullquote]
Adding further cause for concern are reports that the government is considering increasing fees for more expensive courses like medicine and engineering. Therefore, discouraging young people form taking up these courses, despite the fact that the government, the NHS, and numerous large employers are consistently vocal about the fact that we need more graduates from these intensive scientific degrees. It really makes you wonder if any of these policies have been properly thought through at all.
There is nothing wrong with the policy of tuition fees. Surely it is right and fare for those who benefit most from higher education to pay for it, rather than the tax payer. The real issue, which May and Corbyn have both missed, is the issue of value, not the fees themselves. Many of us have as little as 6 contact hours a week, many of which aren’t compulsory or useful. Compare that then to secondary education. Secondary schools not only provide 25 contact hours a week, but also provide sport and extra-curricular activities, pastoral care, exam prep, university prep, regular assessments, deal with parents, and offer a very wide range of cheap and expensive subjects. And all for as little as £6,300 per pupil. That’s £3,000 less than what we currently pay now at Newcastle.[pullquote]Tuition fees as a policy work, but they’re very far from a flawless policy[/pullquote]
So what’s the solution? Well the primary reason most of us go to university in the first place is to increase our career prospects. Yet many degrees are failing in this regard despite universities specifically highlighting the career opportunities as a key selling point in their marketing material. This is predominantly seen in some of the cheaper courses universities offer, such as the arts and humanities, which typically offer lower graduate salaries and less career prospects. The low cost of running these courses in comparison with the much more expensive, yet highly employable, science and vocational courses subsequently encourages universities to offer more places on the humanities and arts courses than they probably should. As a result, universities churn out too many graduates who aren’t equipped with the skills needed to pay back their loan, saddling them with persistent payments for 30 years, and the government with unsustainable debt.
Universities therefore need to put their money where their mouth is. If their degrees are so unique and valuable and will honestly improve our prospects, then they should be held accountable for unpaid student debt, not the government. Whilst at the same time get rewarded by the government when loans are paid off quickly. Such a policy would compel universities to increase spaces on degrees which are offer higher graduate salaries and employment prospects, whilst limiting places on courses which are offer fewer graduate prospects. By shifting the burden of student debt from the government to the universities, we can expect to see universities focus more of their efforts on developing courses that truly enhance our employability and graduate prospects, thus offering students a better chance to pay back our loans in a timely manner, whilst simultaneously adding value to our university experience.
Tuition fees as a policy work, but they’re very far from a flawless policy. Rather than chuck the entire policy, some reforms and fine tuning could transform it into a winning formula.