No More Fees Please

A new study into the future of HE funding is calling for tuition fees to rise above £5,000 a year.

The report by Policy Exchange, More Fees Please?, states:

“It is clear that if the cap is set at £5,000 or lower, once again the majority of institutions will charge the maximum fee and no real market will be activated.”

Sadly, rather than look to alternative models of funding, the call is simply to raise fees and get students to pay more.  Specific caps are not discussed in the report as, “we do not think it is appropriate to stick our fingers in the air and specify a level for the cap here”.  However, it does not go as far to suggest a removal of the cap.

photo by benrybobenry

photo by benrybobenry

As this new study is released, Times Higher Education reports of a survey that suggests more than half of students would be willing to pay fees of £5,000.  Students were asked how low fees could go until they were so low that it would make them doubt the quality of their course, and how high fees could go before they would not pay it.

I don’t like the questioning here.  Tuition fees are not the only source of funding for universities and the reality is more complex.  To ask if a lower tuition fee would make students doubt the quality of a course seems the wrong question to ask.  If taken out of that context, I’m sure students would not consider fees in the same way.

Nevertheless, the survey does suggest that widening participation will be disturbed if fees are raised.

The Policy Exchange report argues that poorer students will not suffer from higher fees.  It states:

“There is clear evidence that top-up fees have not deterred poorer students from going to university, as the anti-fees lobby predicted they would. In fact in the second and third years of top-up fees applications soared in England, much more so than in the years preceding the introduction of top-up fees. Most crucially, the increase in applications was not just from middle-class students. In the 2007-08 academic year applications in England for students from the three lowest socioeconomic groups rose by nearly 10%, and in 2008-09 climbed by a further 27%.”

Firstly, applications in the higher socioeconomic groups rose even higher.  Secondly, it’s no surprise that so many students and parents have pushed toward degree study as greater belief is put on the thought that a university education is the only way to secure a bright future.  At some point, the game will change.  Along with it, poorer students will be deterred by higher fees and applications are bound to suffer.  This is bad news.

Universities group million+ agrees:

“The simplistic approach of this report, which proposes changes to the contributions made by students whilst at university, could have an immensely damaging impact on participation. […] It’s nonsense to suggest that there aren’t thousands of people from lower and modest incomes being denied places at university. This year alone up to a quarter of a million well-qualified applicants could miss out. This report’s proposals would simply serve to put yet more barriers in their way.”

The University and College Union (UCU) say that the call to simply charge students higher fees is an “astonishingly weak” solution.

The 1994 Group does give its support to higher fees, calling it “the only feasible option”. However:

“an increase should only be introduced if it is coupled with two fundamental guarantees. Firstly, a guarantee that a targeted and robust student support system is in place that ensures that no student is unable to attend university because of cost. Higher education should continue to be free at the point of delivery with repayments contingent on income after graduation. Secondly, a commitment from universities to continue to enhance the student experience on offer to all students.”

Raising tuition fees is not the way forward, no matter how much support is given to widening participation.  The state of HE is rapidly changing and the full effects of those changes haven’t been felt yet. Nobody can truly understand the impact of recent, and upcoming, alterations in HE.

Given this uncertainty, the ‘solution’ to HE funding by raising fees could prove costly not just to students, but to everyone involved.  To base so many future plans on past situations that no longer represent the true state of HE is unwise.

Last year, I hoped for more discussion on the future of HE funding.  Now tongues are wagging, it’s time to make our opinions heard.  One fantastic way of doing that is to visit Vote For Students and pledge to use your vote in the next general election to support candidates who would vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament.

Higher fees? No thanks!

Further Reading

One comment

  1. A thought provoking article.
    It is true that many who have the ambition will find a way to acquire the education they seek.
    Yet despite incidences which may look encouraging, it is the poorer sections of society who are being disadvantaged.
    One needs the connections in regard to information concerning proceeding in higher
    education who will give advice and guidance.
    Where an individual maybe be the first in a family
    to go to University they must equip themselves with the knowledge that perhaps a person from
    a middle class background, with a history of
    higher education in the family would have automatically. Self assurance is also necessary.
    A polarizing of society is being illustrated by the
    lack of social mobility in the recent past and is growing. With resources being limited this will
    surely increase.

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