The Coalition cannot afford to increase university fees

Leaks coming from inside former BP boss, Lord Browne’s review of higher education funding today suggest that will stay true to his big business background and suggest the Government raises the cap on tuition fees to £7,000 and subject universities and students to the perils of a market.

Leaks coming from inside former BP boss Lord Browne’s review of higher education funding today suggest that his final report will stay true to his big business background and recommend the Government raises the cap on tuition fees to £7,000 and subjects universities and students to the perils of a market.

It will come as no surprise that students, already facing the prospect of £25,000 of debt upon graduation, overwhelmingly object to an increase in tuition fees – but it would be mistaken to dismiss this as mere ungrateful grumbling.

Figures released as part of the NUS/HSBC student experience survey today show that 70 per cent of current students would have to reconsider going to university if fees were raised to Lord Browne’s £7,000 figure.

When top-up fees were introduced in 2006, students were told by politicians who had benefited from free university education that a tripling of their contribution would lead to real improvements and a better university experience. These improvements haven’t materialised and student satisfaction has remained static. And yet university heads are calling for the cap to be doubled again.

If there were ever a case of asking students to pay more for less, then this is it. Supposing that fees are forced up to £7,000, able and ambitious young people are staring at the prospect of an average £32,000 debt when they graduate, and a jobs market that is increasingly less friendly towards graduates, it is unsurprising that they will think again about whether the risk is worth it. And it will be poorer students, already the most risk-averse, who face being shut out.

NUS’ survey released today also shows that almost half of students receive financial support from friends or family, an increase of nearly 10% in just two years. The proportion of students in the lowest socio-economic group able to rely on this support has dropped dramatically in the last year whilst those in the highest groups are now more likely to lean on family to help cover university costs.

If fees are doubled the number relying on that support to be able to go to university will increase. When asked about increasing their contribution, two-thirds of students surveyed preferred alternative methods, such as some form of progressive graduate tax, to an increase in fees. Lord Browne has apparently failed to comprehend quite how discredited and widely unpopular the current funding system is, or to listen to Business Secretary Vince Cable’s clear statements on the need to replace the “poll tax” of top-up fees with a fairer alternative.

Fortunately, every single Liberal Democrat MP, including Vince Cable and Nick Clegg, have long opposed tuition fees and signed an NUS pledge to vote against any increase in fees and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative. Now that they are part of the Coalition Government, the public will hold them to the cast-iron commitments they have made on what is a totemic issue for both their party and their voters. Now in opposition, all leadership contenders for the Labour Party have indicated they would oppose higher fees, and 4 of the 5 appear to back a graduate tax.

The current system of top-up fees is unpopular, unfair, and unsustainable. Students cannot afford higher fees, universities have failed to make the case for them, and the Coalition Government will be heading for a split if they attempt to introduce them. Fees are quite clearly an idea whose time has passed and the sooner Lord Browne, government ministers, and university heads realise this, the sooner we can begin in earnest the real discussion of how to save our universities with a fair and sustainable funding settlement.

20 Responses to “The Coalition cannot afford to increase university fees”

  1. NUS UK

    The Coalition cannot afford to increase university fees: //bit.ly/dC1Xf2 writes NUS President @AaronPorter (via @leftfootfwd )

  2. NUS Student Media

    'The Coalition cannot afford to increase university fees', Aaron Porter argues //tiny.cc/wmcne

  3. Martin Steers

    “Now in opposition, all leadership contenders for the Labour Party have indicated they would oppose higher fees, and 4 of the 5 appear to back a graduate tax.”

    Least we forget that it was a labour government that brought in tuition fees and this review with the idea of increasing them.. the small end of the wedge branded with the past of labour glory.. and during general election, although a large number of labour candidates signed the pledge only one of the labour leadership candidates did, Diana Abbott, who I would assume would be pleased to have the support of the NUS president because of this fact..

    Top up fees are wrong, education is a right and anyone who has the skills and ambition to go to university should be able to do, but do not attack the coalition government for policy and agenda that they have inherited from Labour.

  4. Fred Mitcheson

    Well, either this will be a coalition breaker, or alternatively Vince and Nick will bend over the negotiating table. Will lose much of their student support for this.

  5. Britain must invest in education to succeed in global economy | Left Foot Forward

    […] NUS President Aaron Porter wrote exclusively for Left Foot Forward earlier today: “When top-up fees were introduced in 2006, students were told by politicians […]

  6. Sarah Ghost

    The coalition may have inherited policy and agenda from Labour, but they also have the power to change that agenda and do something better. The issue of higher education has been raised at a crucial time for the coalition – and it could be their downfall should they choose to go their separate ways on the decisions surrounding it. It’s down to the coalition to do something brave and begin discussions about solutions to the problems we are now facing – can we get a little focus, instead of looking backwards and blaming others in the past, and start making tangible changes for the better?

    It seems clear to all of those of us who are involved on the ground in higher education, students and staff alike, that the walls around us are beginning to crumble. Instead of piling more pressure on students who are already struggling to get ahead in life by bumping up fees, why aren’t we doing more to find viable solutions that aren’t going to leave hundreds of thousands of our future workers in debt for the remainder of their lives? Perhaps I am the only one who is concerned by Lord Browne’s obvious conflict of interest, being both the chair of a committee looking at university funding and simultaneously appointed an Efficiency Czar charged with looking at ways to cut public spending?

    What concerns me, and continues to concern myself and many other professionals working in higher education, is that university leadership and decision-making is being increasingly handed over to those whose main experience is in business and commerce, rather than education. Decisions are being made based on commercial models that simply don’t work in the university education setting. Universities aren’t supposed to businesses – they’re supposed to be places of education and the success of a university should be measured in student satisfaction and not how much money it’s put into the management coffers.

    Top up fees are simply not suitable for the world we live in today, and to avoid looking at any other solutions, or dismissing the massive voice of students and higher education professionals who heavily protest against them, is a mistake I hope that the coalition government will avoid, lest they hand over poor policy and agenda to their successors.

  7. Jo Caulfield

    RT @NUSStudentMedia: 'The Coalition cannot afford to increase university fees', Aaron Porter argues //tiny.cc/wmcne

  8. LSE Students' Union

    RT @NUSStudentMedia: 'The Coalition cannot afford to increase university fees', Aaron Porter argues //tiny.cc/wmcne

  9. Alan Roberts

    RT @NUSStudentMedia: 'The Coalition cannot afford to increase university fees', Aaron Porter argues //tiny.cc/wmcne

  10. Huddersfield UCU

    RT @nusuk: The Coalition cannot afford to increase university fees: //bit.ly/dC1Xf2 writes NUS President @AaronPorter (via @leftfoo …

  11. Huddersfield UCU

    RT @leftfootfwd: The Coalition cannot afford to increase university fees: //bit.ly/dC1Xf2 writes NUS President @AaronPorter

  12. Anon E Mouse

    Along with so many other aspects of life in this country the coalition needs to sort out this mess Labour left us with if we are to educate our young today to be the taxpayers of tomorrow.

    Perhaps if fewer people went on courses that will not lead to gainful employment and more emphasis was put on educating people for the jobs that the country needs, such as plumbers and sparks and the like, then the same cash pot would/should be available for fewer students.

    Since graduates on average earn more than non-graduates then in the long run they will pay a graduate tax effectively…

  13. PosterPrinting24.com

    RT @lsesu: RT @NUSStudentMedia: 'The Coalition cannot afford to increase university fees', Aaron Porter argues //tiny.cc/wmcne

  14. Claire

    What will the future hold? …… when the only people who attend universities are those who can afford too; who are there because mummy and daddy, grandpa and grandma all have degrees, not by free choice just assumption. The people who will be targeted the most by such drastic measures are those of whom are deprived- who work hard to attend university, those of whom are the first in the family studying for a degree- those in poverty. Cuts in HE and raising tuition fees with add further problems to our country, preventing young people the chance and opportunity of a better and more improved life.

  15. It doesn't add up...

    I agree that university fees should be abandoned (the caveat here is a need to prevent EU students claiming education not funded by their nations of origin). So should the ludicrous targets for the numbers sent through a “university” education. Students are now being asked to pay for education that they used to get in school. Pupils from poorer backgrounds are denied opportunities to study and prove their worth in schools. Improve the productivity of the education system and we can easily afford it.

  16. Goldsmiths UCU

    RT @leftfootfwd: The Coalition cannot afford to increase university fees: //bit.ly/dC1Xf2 writes NUS President @AaronPorter

  17. Zoe Gray

    Since when was education solely about getting a job?
    The government tells us we simply cannot afford free education. If education is not the priority, what on earth is?

  18. The Coalition cannot afford to increase university fees « AaronPorter's Blog

    […] //www.leftfootforward.org/2010/09/the-coalition-cannot-afford-to-increase-university-fees/ Leaks coming from inside former BP boss Lord Browne’s review of higher education funding today suggest that his final report will stay true to his big business background and recommend the Government raises the cap on tuition fees to £7,000 and subjects universities and students to the perils of a market. […]

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