So far there is a clear but poor difference between the main parties on University education policies. We have the Tories proposing to raise the fees cap to £16,000 up from £9,000 as it is now while Labour continues to discuss whether to cut in the maximum fee from £9,000 to £6,000. I accept this is a big difference, but definitely not inspiring stuff from either of them. A fee cut comes with the added potential to cost Universities about £10bn according to their Vice Chancellors who wrote an open letter a couple of days after Liam Byrne spoke to Universities UK about their inflated pay.
Labour is due to make a policy announcement by the end of the month… Hopefully something that cannot be lampooned on day one as the £6,000 fee will be, having received criticism before its initial launch and missing the boom factor.
There is a problem from the governments finances perspective that the unofficial subsidy that the state is set to take on from having fees at £9,000 may make the system cost more than a lower fee or alternative form of funding such as a graduate tax or direct funding through general taxation might. That the level of repayment is so much lower than expected is quite a worry from their prospective and could lead to unexpectedly raising of costs on already indebted students or an indirect state subsidy. It is worth noting that it is already causing a shortfall in the Business Departments books and this is why action is likely but in which direction the fees go depends entirely on priorities.
I look forward to giving the policies a thorough looking over but it is clear this system is neither working as it should for students, not for the state’s finances. As somebody who believes in ‘Free education’ and even if that is not possible which I doubt it will be considering the fiscal straight jacket the parties have set themselves a more equitable system must be placed forward for the next generation. I do not think it is good for our system or morally right that any change comes with the cost of social mobility, discouraging poorer potential students who are often faced with poor standard Apprenticeships and £9,000 fees for university have little choice in their own destiny. The loss of bright working class men and women being left in no-mans land is exactly why we need to change fees and why Apprenticeships need reform not just an increase in numbers as I have written before.
We have some of the best universities in the world, it does need to be financed somehow and politicians and a large proportion of society agree education is a merit good. Something that as consumed benefits the whole of society, but these same people also believe universities should at least in part be financed by students themselves. While the obvious rebuttal is that in a progressive tax system the more you earn the more you pay and considering that university is an investment in human capital, it should lead to a higher wage from a more productive worker. University education had costs introduced in and since they went up to £3,000 nine years ago have increased quite drastically since. A cut in the fee, a graduate tax, filling the gap in public finances needs to be done and in a visibly more progressive way, even though the fees are predominantly covered by ‘soft loans’ the headline figure puts people off from lower-income backgrounds. I should know, I saw considerable parts of my class at college originally dreaming of university decide to do anything but.
If Germany, Sweden and Norway can have free education, if Chile and others can be heading that way, so can we can do it too. We jut need to get the ball rolling and start using our power by showing our willingness to vote going forward!