Are tuition fees really so bad?

Students in London protest again tuition fees

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

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