Five reasons to oppose the trebling of fees

MPs will vote tonight on the trebling of tuition fees to £9,000. Left Foot Forward sets out five reasons to oppose the move.

1. The rise in fees is only necessary to pay for the dramatic cuts in university teaching budgets

The Spending Review announced significant cuts in University teaching funds – expected by many Vice-Chancellors to be between 75 and 95 per cent. Settlement letters have not yet been sent to universities but the Government has been clear that funding will now focus on the teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects. All funding for arts, humanities, and social sciences will need to be made up through tuition fees – the effective privatisation of universities like LSE, Soas and Goldsmiths.

A new report, ‘Universities at risk – the impact of cuts in higher education spending on local economies‘, places 49 of England’s 130 higher education institutions at ‘very high’, ‘high’, or ‘high-medium’ risk of serious impact from government funding cuts to university teaching. They could, according to UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, “leave them vulnerable to a merger or, in the worst-case scenario, closure.

Although the Government has said that universities would need permission to charge more than £6,000, analysis today from the University and College Union shows universities will have to charge £7,000 just to break even. Some institutions – such as the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and Central School of Speech and Drama – will have to charge closer to £8,000.

2. The tuition fees rise will leave students of all backgrounds worse off.

Yesterday’s analysis from the Institute for Fiscal Studies showed that students from all backgrounds would be significantly worse off if fees were set at the £7,500 level.

Although no student will need to pay back a penny until they start earning around £18,000 in today’s prices, the rise in fees is likely to deter students from applying in the first place. Seven in ten students have said that they would be put off by fees of £7,000 while peer reviewed research has shown that working class students are 46 per cent more debt averse than the average. But it seems this won’t bother the Government. As Next Left reveals, in a 2003 Times op ed, Education Secretary Michael Gove wrote:

“Some people will, apparently, be put off applying to our elite institutions by the prospect of taking on a debt of this size. Which, as far as I’m concerned, is all to the good.”

3. Bankers make a smaller contribution than public sector workers

Although, according to the IFS, the proposed system to repay tuition fees is “progressive”, bankers will end up paying back less than public sector workers. As the Guardian today points out:

“the big picture is that moderate earners will be stung to the tune of 9p in the pound on income tax, while the wealthiest graduates will be free to clear their debts rapidly”

A progressive graduate tax, of the kind proposed by the NUS rather than caricatured by David Cameron yesterday, would ensure that all graduates earning above a determined threshold would pay back for the same amount of time without any of the debt deterrence.

4. The proposals appear to mean a 64% cut in bursary funds

There is currently £412 million provided to the sector for the purposes of widening participation and fair access in English higher education. The Browne Review recommended that future widening participation initiatives must have funds equal to, or greater than, the current level of investment but the Government has only announced plans for a £150m scholarship scheme.

These scholarships are intended to pay for the first year of tuition fees for 18,000 of the poorest students. But it’s unclear how many will get that far given that Education Maintenance Allowances are being scrapped and AimHigher is also for the chop.

5. A vote for a fees hike will further undermine trust in politics

Labour did not shine itself in glory by promising in their 2001 manifesto that they would “not introduce ‘top-up’ fees and have legislated to prevent them” before doing precisely the reverse.

But the Liberal Democrats went even further during the 2010 general election by campaigning hard on the issue, especially on campuses around the country. A party election broadcast in the days before the election outlined that there would be “No more broken promises“, Nick Clegg told the National Union of Students’ annual conference that, “We will resist, vote against, campaign against, a rise in tuition fees”, and – as widely reported – every Lib Dem MP signed the NUS pledge to “vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative”.

No more broken promises? We’ll find out tonight.

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