CLASH OF COMMENTS: Should the UK abolish tuition fees

Image: Alan Light

 

YES- Jacob Phillips

I remember distinctly the moment that tuition fees were raised to nine grand in 2012. Not because of its political significance but rather as a result of my school’s local protest of the move. School students from all years decided to have a sit out on one of the school’s playgrounds to condemn the hypocrisy of Nick Clegg and co. At 14 this was certainly more of an excuse to miss some lesson time and mess around with mates than a coordinated protest. However, as a university student five years on it is safe to say that the jokes have now run dry.

Universities are taking advantage of the current system of tuition fees in order to shift society to viewing education as a market. You can take our own university as an example as of this. York, like many other universities, focuses all of its funding into its science degrees and meanwhile sweeps humanities students along as if they are on some kind of human production line. No I’m not bitter at all… This means that for many students the fees which are in place are not even directly impacting their degree. English students for instance still have to buy all their own texts every term. This can total around £200 a year on top of all other expenses for as little as five hours contact time. At as much as £60 an hour, other subjects such as history and philosophy suffer in similar circumstances and are rewarded with lower employability rates than their scientific counterparts, left only to become miniature David Humes or David Starkeys.

The same can be said about the treatment of international students. By charging the astonishingly high figure of £20 000 a year, our government is arrogantly assuming that our education system is better than other nations’, that it does not need to ensure that they are appropriately looked after. Mental health figures, in particular for east Asian students, have been shown to be below par for international students in the UK.

With Brexit meaning that EU students will no longer have certainty of having their tuition fees capped to £9000 a year we should be doing better to provide for Europe’s finest. It is not only the concern of students about how student loans are incorrectly calculated. Austerity measures taken by the Tories under Cameron and Chancellor Osborne defied some of the most basic fundamental economic principles and left us with a poorly constructed student loan system. John Maynard Keynes in fact described such as the worst possible action to take. Removing money from the pockets of students by sending them into a world of debt results in a decrease in the effective demand of the economy. In other words, reducing the amount of money that consumers can have to spend worsens our economy. Shrinking the public sector decreases the flow of money and therefore everyone is out of pocket. It should not be the case that student debt is the monthly reminder of your university days all the way into your forties or fifties. I hope that in the future there will never be a moment where finally paying off your student loan will coincide with having a midlife crisis.

 

NO- James Hare

Tuition fees do get the blood pumping, don’t they? Earlier this year we saw a crackers Islington-ite almost ride into power on the back of his promise to abolish them, and now under pressure from his band of merry men, women, and the entity calling itself John McDonnell, the government has given into immense pressure to freeze tuition fees at their current level.

Now I’ll be honest, I’m the walking, talking, polarising definition of a centrist dad – albeit without the children, praise the Lord. So in totally unsurprising fashion, I’m here to defend a policy that after all has roots in the Blair administration (those were the days). So let me explain why I’ll be defending St Tony of Sedgefield and his education policies.
My defence of tuition fees is as something ultimately progressive. For you see, without tuition fees, those who go to university are subsidised by those who do not. That is unjust and unfair. Yes, there is the thorough argument that the  general public needs the doctors and nurses provided by the university system – but equally, there will be those who go to university to study Politics like me and who contribute very little to improving people’s lives.

After all we should remember also, that those going to university will do so (at least one would hope) in order to improve their future prospects. So considering that, their degree is an investment in their future, and as such their responsibility to finance. I know that this concept of self-financing may come across as somewhat novel to many however it is generally how economics works. Then when we consider the lack of obligation to repay student debt in its entirety, and suddenly fees don’t seem like an issue even worthy of attention. It’s not as if graduates are having to choose between debt repayments or food on the table – making them among the few under this government with food on the table – as they can effectively get a free university education provided that they can never earn enough money to pay it back.

Some will of course make the argument that it is wrong either way to make people pay for a universal right such as education. But that’s utter nonsense of the like you would only normally hear from the Foreign Secretary. Sure, it can be applied to obligatory education – but that is not what university education is, nor is it what university education should be. If anything, we probably in fact need fewer graduates, so giving people a free break of three years from positively contributing to society is unlikely to end well.

Now I will be the first to say that I do believe the fee system needs reforming, and that I can see the case for reducing fees somewhat – especially in areas experiencing a shortage of graduates, so as to encourage people to enter those sectors. However, I think that overall tuition fees are actually something progressive, especially in their current form. It’s not like the US yet, where they form a debilitating noose around the malnourished neck of recent graduates. So in short, Freeze = Bad. Fees = Good. Governmet = Terrible. Thanks for reading!

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