Readdressing tuition fees

The Education Minister has bravely picked up the shovel, to readdress the issue of tuition fees which only seem to get worse. He announced that there will be a review of the current tuition fees system, focusing on graduate debt.

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Photograph: epSos.de

Tuition fees were a matter that had fallen out of the headlines for a while. The campaigns and protests on the matter had died down, and students across the country seemed to have soothed their anger. It can be argued that the politicians have buried the topic as deep as possible, as it is usually a topic that causes public outcry rather than spikes in their approval ratings. However, the Education Minister has bravely picked up the shovel, to readdress the issue of tuition fees which only seem to get worse. He announced that there will be a review of the current tuition fees system, focusing on graduate debt.

The first interesting point comes from Mr Hinds himself, “Tuition fees should reflect each degree’s value to our society as a whole” of which there is a lot to dissect. The initial question to ask here is ‘what is value of your degree?’ Is it determined by the amount of taxable income you will earn in your life as a result? The amount of utility your occupation will offer to society as a whole? How employable your degree makes you after it is completed? All of these factors have distinctive problems.

If your value as a graduate is determined by your earnings over a lifetime, then an investment banker with an economics and finance degree is far more valuable than an NHS surgeon with a medicine degree. For all the bio-med/medicine students reading this, I doubt you would accept that your degree is simply worthless just because you will earn less money than some of your flatmates in the future. Common sense would dictate that a surgeon would have more utility to society that an investment banker, as one occupation directly saves lives while the other does not.

With that logic, we can also expose something that has been completely missed by the current narrative in the media as well as Mr Hinds. Your experience at a university should also be a factor in determining the value of your degree. In other words, ‘did you enjoy your time studying at university?’ The value of a degree, and subsequently your tuition, has two factors: the university experience itself, and your life after graduating from that university. Honing in on what you want from your degree for most people, would be to state that you want to be able to enter the occupation of your choosing within a year of graduating, and have job security in the occupation you find yourself in.

Mr Hind’s views on graduate debt can be agreed upon by almost everyone. High interest rates on student loans is simply unnecessary. Even though we could very easily enter a huge debate on the nature of student loans, it has been the least controversial of Mr Hind’s comments, and hasn’t been the focus of the media either. Apparently, ministers had not expected so many courses to immediately rise to £9000. But instead of correcting that mistake at the time, the Government did the equivalent of saying “oopsie” and swiftly moved on. After the cabinet reshuffle, Mr Hind seems to be offering a fresh pair of eyes on the matter six years later. You might say better late than never, but this in my opinion would be to undermine the advantages of our current system.

The idea behind raising tuition fees in the first place, was to provide a market for universities to compete. Value for money would be a factor that would be easier to compare, especially since there is a concern with the worth of your degree. A degree from a university ranked 8th, is not even close the value of a degree from one ranked 100th, hence a market would put power into the hands of the student. The students would determine the value of the degree based on how much they demand for it. If they decide a degree from an 80th ranked university is not worth £9000, they won’t go there.

At least that is how it’s supposed to work. If you think the current elitism within universities is bad, a new system could make it even worse. The advantage with everyone charging the maximum amount, is that it puts everyone on a more equal playing field. With a “Free Market” system, it is more likely that students who can afford the more expensive tuition fees will go the better universities. Some universities will be highly priced simply because of the calibre of the people attending and the university experience, whilst being hugely out-performed by other universities in terms of employment prospects.

Alternatively, it could work out better for those attending cheaper universities. Whilst the experience may not be as high-brow, they might simply have a better education and better employment prospects as a result. But we also must consider that the quality of a universities alumni can determine your employment prospects. This is commonly considered as unimportant by many students, but the reputation of your university in the professional world is important to your potential employers. A final criterium could be nightlife, societies, student unions, and other extracurricular activities, rankings for which we know already exist. This could give credit to universities, who previously didn’t have a competitive edge, because they are simply fun universities to attend. I would like to think Lancaster fits under this category, but the Sugarhouse isn’t really the best of nightclub out there, and then there’s Hustle.

It would be narrow minded to instant take an anti-government stance, simply because the government has wronged us for so long on the matter of tuition fees. Mr Hinds deserves credit where it is due, he has addressed the most important problem regarding tuition fees, which has been buried over the years. Despite this, he should be cautious when introducing “free market principles” to yet another industry in the UK for the sake of his own political career. The “Privatisation of the NHS” hasn’t benefitted Jeremy Hunt’s popularity at all, it would be a shame for Damien Hinds to suffer the same fate. Of course this is only a review which could lead absolutely nowhere, but we should have hope that it could lead somewhere.