What came out of today’s conference was quite worrying, given the number of speakers in favour of increasing fees and even introducing variable fees.
Thank goodness Wes Streeting was there to argue the case away from fees. Wes is current President of the National Union of Students (NUS). He argued against a fees-based system, suggesting instead a type of graduate tax that NUS has published a Blueprint on. It has been argued that some graduates would pay more through that graduate tax than under the current system of fees. However, the Blueprint is based on a future where the only real argument right now is for much higher fees that would cost a lot more to students than the Blueprint proposes. Lift the cap on fees and that makes the NUS Blueprint even more tempting.
I’ve already argued in the past that the NUS Blueprint is a great way to open up the debate on funding. If there are better alternatives, a lot of people are willing to listen. So far, much of the debate is focused on making changes to the current system, rather than introducing a different way of funding altogether.
I don’t know how long the videos from the conference are available for, but you can find the whole talk from Wes at the Policy Review TV site (along with all other talks). But I want to highlight one piece of the talk: the future of HE funding will have an impact on more than future students. This is an issue for the wider public.
Here’s a bit of what Wes had to say:
“It should be obvious that asking students to pay more at such a difficult time would be regressive and damaging to the economy in the short term and the long term, when the huge added debts really impact on pensions, and the housing market, and the next generation of families. So this is no longer a question of what happens to Britain’s universities, it’s a question of what happens to Britain and what happens to our society and why this debate matters more to the general public than it has done hitherto.
“Not only that but crucial and very pertinent questions about quality and value for money will immediately become dominant. I have seen no evidence that quality has improved since 2006. And be in no doubt as you argue that students should plug the funding gap that’s increasingly arising, tomorrow’s students will not be willing to pay more for less, nor should they be asked to do so.
“That’s precisely why, in this politically vexatious debate, NUS will be taking the debate out to the general public.”
I wish the NUS every success in making such an important issue known by the public. That should really help stop the silence regarding fees and get the debate going before the funding review needs to report and, crucially, before the general election takes place. After the election will be too late. The public deserve a greater say and a greater understanding as soon as possible.