Are higher tuition fees really that bad?

Late last year I attended a student demonstration opposing tuition fees. I say attended, it was staged to begin right outside my halls and I needed to leave to get to a lecture. But don’t worry, I did stay for a little while and vented my ‘anger’ about that liar Nick Clegg. An act apparently compulsory if you want to be a proper student.

The general gist was pretty much what you’d expect. Fuck the Tories, fuck the police, fuck Nick Clegg, austerity is bad, education is a right that should be free with a dealer from SOAS in the midst of it all making a small fortune.

But all this (quite widespread) anger aside, I’ve been thinking; are tuition fees really all that bad? Yes, Nick Clegg lied. That’s bad. But if that’s your main problem (which I suspect for many that it is) it’s really no use confusing the issue. Anyway, you’ll get your chance to punish him on the 7th May. Oh how gleeful all those Sheffield Hallam students must be feeling.

Before I continue, it is worth, for the sake of clarity, noting that I am a student. I’m a first year at LSE. I also consider myself a Conservative, thought not quite as conservative as the people that probably spring to mind when I say that. But on that point, it’s also worth noting I’m not rich (especially now I’m student) and neither are my family. Yes, as is almost always the case, we are richer than some people but we are by no means on the same level of the members of the Bullingdon Club you’re thinking of. My dad was an apprentice, my mum didn’t go to university and I have a pretty big student loan. Finally, and somewhat less unpopular than being a Conservative at university, I also believe that university is a right. It’s because of this that I can’t get enraged about the rise in tuition fees like it seems I’m supposed to.

On that issue, if you think it through you realise that the ‘right to education’ doesn’t simply mean ‘education’ it means a ‘good education’. However you define that, whether it’s an ability to think critically, an encyclopaedic knowledge of your chosen subject or simply a job when you graduate, everyone wants their education to be a good education. But the fact of the matter is this does not come cheap, let alone free. Despite what those greasy haired socialists in the Union bar say.

Tuition fees alone aren’t generally enough to fund a degree. It’s only with donations, grants and endowments that most universities can afford to effectively operate. My university has an endowment of just under £100 million. The prestigious Oxbridge universities both have ones that run into the billions while most other UK universities have just under the £100 million mark, like LSE. These actually decreased when the government cut university funding as part of these austerity measures. That’s why the fees rose. We aren’t just paying for the sake of it, we are paying to make sure our universities remain just as good as they have historically been. So good in fact, students from all over the world come en masse to study at them.

I get that this could be a problem, especially if this meant that young people from the lowest income backgrounds could not afford to become students. That would be denying them their right. But the fact is, this isn’t happening. UCAS, those people who made your life hell during the first half of Year 13, recently released figures showing applications from low-income applicants “increased to the highest levels recorded“. This follows a trend since the fees were increased.

Why? Because just like welfare system, money is redistributed from the top to the bottom. Rather than effectively giving me a subsidy to study (as used to be the case) I pay more fees and more university funds go towards scholarships, grants and bursaries for students on lower incomes. I can’t speak for everyone, but I for one am happy to further assist the right to good education for all and I’m sure the student on a scholarship who wouldn’t have been able to afford university five years ago is too. Just like, I’d imagine, they would be willing to pay more to fund others like them if they could.

Maybe someone should mention that next time middle class students go off on one about fees?

James Thomas Bonner

Follow James – @JamesTBonner

4 Comments on Are higher tuition fees really that bad?

    • Sam, the fact that you take such issue with the authors use of language rather than the points he makes says, I think, a lot about your ability to refute them. Can you? If you can I’d love to hear them. In fact, I think we all would. Why not write a response and contribute it?

  1. I pretty much completely agree with you on this point. The UK have a great system in place of offering loans, bursaries etc to people who need them so they are able to go to university, and afterwards, they will pay it off in a way that is so natural they will barely notice it. And, of course, they help out more for people who need more support. I myself, coming from an orphaned background received bursaries and scholarships galore and only have to pay a tiny amount back to the government.

    However… my issue comes in when people like me, who have no money, no family to support me, no…nothing, choose that, with their 1st Class degree, they want to continue on and get a Masters and a Phd..and they are simply told… “cough up the money (or shit the money, I don’t think they care how they get it) or you can’t come. You poor little orphan are not entitled to any sort of subsidiary or bursary, or scholarship, or even a loan.” And this is where the unfortunate truth comes in…that while a basic level of education is open to all; it doesn’t matter how intelligent you are, if you do not have money behind you, or have gone thorugh a tragedy somewhere in your life, our government does not want you to achieve those higher accolades. It’s basically tough shit. And so , the rich and well-educated stay rich and well-educated and those people like me….well…we end up working for Twitter and dreaming of the day we can get that PHD and shove it in the governments greasy-haired, wrinkled brows and “Holier-than-thou” faces.

  2. Kerry I think you make an excellent point. Although my focus when writing this article was undergraduate study I think you make an excellent point. If I was writing the article now I think I proberably include further levels of University study.
    The fact is, in an increasingly competitive global economy those looking for employment need to be as best skilled to suit the needs of the jobs market as possible. When, as is currently the case, much of the skills required are highly specialised and only availible through higher levels of study it is essential that this is made availble to the best not just those who can afford it.
    It seems to me rather redundant that a system designed to work so effectively at undergraduate level is limited to just that level.

    Best of luck with your job and I hope you do, in the end, manage to get the degree you want. In the meantime I do plan on writing something more on the matter but if you have a different perspective to offer would more than welcome it.

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