Why does the Tory Government want students to be even poorer?

If you’re a prospective undergraduate student, you’ll have been shocked to see a number of universities, including Durham and Royal Holloway, offering courses above the £9000 a year threshold, which has now been increased to £9250. If you’re a current student or have confirmed your place for September 2016, you’ll be even more shocked to find out that your tuition fees could potentially increase, after you agreed on a price.

When applying for university, both student finance and my school assured me not to worry about the student loans: I would only be paying it back if I earned £21,000 and until I was 50 years old, and I would be getting a lovely bursary to support me through too, due to coming from a low income family. Of course that’s all changed and I will now be in about £60,000 worth of debt due to doing a four year course and my reliance on the bursary from Student Finance England. With tuition fees rising, is there really any incentive for students to go to university in the UK?

Jo Johnson said that ‘higher fees lead to better teaching’, yet the QS top 100 universities is not entirely dominated by British universities, with only 15 English universities making the top 100 and three Scottish universities making their way to top 100 (all of which are free to Scots and EU Nationals). In comparison there are a number of EU universities making the top 100 which have no tuition fees to EU students, including Germany, Finland and Denmark, with others offering incredibly low fees such as the Netherlands and France and many of these cheap or free courses are offered in English. That’s a lot better value for money if it’s £9000 a year (potentially more) cheaper for the same quality of education and same standard of universities.

It’s not just undergraduates who are struggling. A number of the universities in London are offering Masters degrees that cost more than £10,000 – which is how much student loan you get for the entire year to cover your living costs and tuition fees. With the high living costs of London, how is anyone expected to continue their education there, unless one was to work long hours and subsequently risk the quality of their Masters degree?

Let’s hope that there will be another general election soon and we can vote for a party that will stand up for us, and not expect people to celebrate their 21st birthday in thousands of pounds worth of debt.

Maybe it’s also time for schools to encourage students to explore their options in a European country that isn’t the UK, in hope that maybe that will make the Government sit up and realise that they’re potentially losing some of their top graduates, especially if they’re telling international students to return to their home country upon graduation.

* Anna Pitcher has recently finished her studies in German and Economics at the University of Sheffield. She is a member of the Liberal Democrats.

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  • Anna

    “Let’s hope that there will be another general election soon and we can vote for a party that will stand up for us, and not expect people to celebrate their 21st birthday in thousands of pounds worth of debt.”

    Unfortunately, you won’t find such a party in England. It doesn’t help, but I for one would be happy to pay more tax if we could abolish these dreadful tuition fees.

  • Rhys Taylor 22nd Jul '16 - 3:03pm

    Unfortunately Higher Education (beyond fees) isn’t a headline grabber, but the Tories are systematically dismantling the UK’s internationally renowned brand of higher education – and now our research will suffer post-Brexit.

    1. They’ve retrospectively changed the terms and conditions of student loans – something a company or bank could never do.
    2. They’re overhauling the regulatory framework to make it easier for for-profit organisations to gain access to Degree Awarding Powers and university title – without having to demonstrate a record of meeting baseline standards.
    3. They’re increasing fees based on some convoluted system of ‘measuring’ what they’ve defined as ‘excellence’ through the teaching excellence framework – which will not only fail to drive or measure excellence but will confuse students and parents and the public when they differentiate fees on a subject level.
    4. The marketisation of Higher Education hasn’t work – you can’t drive quality and excellence through increasing fees.
    5. Lifting student caps is resulting in poorer quality learning experiences
    6. They’re paying lip service to social mobility and widening access – widening participation measures have failed to address growing attainment gaps in our universities, however many poorer students or poor white men are going to university.
    6. The regulatory changes will mute the voices of students in their education, despite overwhelming evidence of the positive impact of student engagement in co-creating their learning communities.

  • Max Wilkinson 22nd Jul '16 - 3:06pm

    This article raises many excellent points, but the headline is deeply misleading. Increasing student fees doesn’t make students poorer. It will, however, affect the repayments of graduates. Even so, it won’t plunge graduates into poverty due to the way loans are repaid.

    While we may disagree on the extent to which fee payments, loans and debt have a role in higher education, I hope our party will avoid hyperbole which may needlessly put young people off applying for university.

  • Rhys Taylor 22nd Jul '16 - 3:14pm

    Max – the government’s changes to bursaries, fee repayments, and the introduction of inflationary fee increases (without even considering possibly removing the cap on fees) will see students accrue more debt, particularly the poorest students who have to take out loans to cover their living costs as they are no longer eligible for bursaries.
    Whatever the monthly payments, how long it’ll take to pay off, poorer students will take on more debt than their wealthier counterparts.

    It also says a lot about the value we place on higher education if we put a sticker price on it.

  • “Unfortunately Higher Education (beyond fees) isn’t a headline grabber, but the Tories are systematically dismantling the UK’s internationally renowned brand of higher education – and now our research will suffer post-Brexit”.

    I seem to remember it wasn’t just the Tories who started that caper…… and I doubt the Lib Dems would have much credibility if they challenged it.

  • “Why does the Tory Government want students to be even poorer?”

    Because it hates young people. Or more accurately, it hates young people that aren’t it’s own children.

    I see this in the context of the much heralded “living wage” that only applies if you are over 25 (because under 25’s don’t deserve a life?) and severely restricted access to Housing Benefit if you are under 25.

    This of course does not affect the children of Tory ministers who will be subsidised by their parents through university, and if necessary through an unpaid internship, and then helped onto the housing ladder.

    Max is obviously correct in his point about poverty now vs debt later. Students won’t have any less money in their pockets while they attend university as a result of this.

  • It isn’t just the government. Universities are racking up the costs because they can sniff the money. It’s a dysfunctional system just like it is in the US.

  • Andrew McCaig 22nd Jul '16 - 3:40pm

    The problem for universities is that the fees are now their main source of income so they do not want to see them frozen indefinitely. So long term either fees have to rise or the government has to pay more, or universities will be slowly strangled (I should add that the universities did pretty well in most cases from the introduction of £9000 fees and have not “wasted” that windfall on paying staff in line with inflation… So disaster is not imminent..).

    I think our Party badly and urgently needs a Higher Education policy that is acceptable to the majority of students and young graduates. These are the group that we have gone some way to recapturing through the referendum, but which we lost so disastrously in 2010. Whether free Higher Education at current participation rates is now realistic I am not sure… How about a Graduate Tax, where the rich would pay far more back than the cost of their education over their careers?

    I would very much like to know what Anna and others like her think about this.. Meanwhile I will be highlighting this issue when I send back my policy consultation this weekend…

  • Max Wilkinson 22nd Jul '16 - 4:43pm

    Rhys – I agree with you. An article focusing on those points would certainly warrant the chosen headline.

  • Max Wilkinson 22nd Jul '16 - 4:50pm

    To clarify – by ‘those points’ I mean the points that would actually impact the poverty of students, not simply those who have in the past studied in higher education.

  • I don’t think the headline fee really makes too much difference once it’s up to what it is now – most people won’t pay it back anyway.

    The important things to fight on are things like bursaries which make a concrete difference to students. It’s not the trendy thing, but it’s what matters.

    We wouldn’t have tuition fees in a perfect world, but in my view it is better to have them, as it will always make more difference to invest the money spent on abolishing tuition fees on education in primary and secondary schools.

  • ……………….Let’s hope that there will be another general election soon and we can vote for a party that will stand up for us, and not expect people to celebrate their 21st birthday in thousands of pounds worth of debt……………..

    I suggest that, if there is another GE, we steer well clear of promising anything on ‘tuition fees’ …….

  • Ed Shepherd 23rd Jul '16 - 7:38am

    Higher education should be free at the point of delivery and paid for by a progressive taxation system not by loans. The LibDems support such a system in Scotland. Nick Clegg, George Osborne and David Cameron had their tuition fees paid for by such a system. If those three think that education should be paid for by loans then they all have the option of paying back the costs of their higher eduation by voluntary contributions to the state. But they won’t do that, will they.

  • Higher fees may lead to better teaching but it also leads to more demands on those with already full plates and demanding students: not always a good thing.

  • Mike Barnes 23rd Jul '16 - 6:35pm

    Remember when the £9,000 per year fees were only going to be allowed in ‘exceptional circumstances’?


    Lower reputation universities would not be allowed to charge the maximum amount, because obviously their degrees aren’t as valuable in the workplace and it’s stupid to load so much debt on young people who get less valuable degrees as they will likely never earn enough to repay it all.

    This is a day for celebration, in only 5 years we have made every university in the land exceptional!

  • After 14 years as an Assistant Professor in US Universities, I conclude, at least here, there is more hot air around higher education than anything else in today’s politics. Realities apply to universities as in all other walks of life. If you are talented, hardworking, and from an affluent background you will succeed at college. If you are not, you deserve some help; but, only to the extent that your success pays society back in some way acceptable to voters more broadly. For example, generous support for math and science students undertaking to go into teaching in disadvantaged schools.

    Young people provide a lot of progressive fire (let’s see how those attracted to Bernie Sanders’s promises of free college vote [or don’t] in November). Especially, as Liberal Democrats we need to be aware of the dangers of offering policies that cannot be sustained — like free tuition. The other side of an unsustainable policy is the disappointment felt by those who believed, for their own reasons, our promises (as I trust more Brexiters will discover).

    What I benefited from in the 1970s and 80s, are not today’s conditions. Caveat emptor is a nostrum for higher ed., now, because it is a worldwide business in need of regulation like so many other transnational endeavors. I, for one, can’t see paying for subsequent generations out of the public purse as practical politics, if society does not recognize a substantial return! To get ‘free tuition’ again whole electorates need convincing!

    US experience shows two pitfalls to avoid are promotion of any higher ed. as a panacea — raising all boats does not raise societal benefit as much as it intensifies competition — and accumulation of private student debts, ‘grounded’ in false hope that any college experience is bankable. There’s a lot of bad college out there!

    In the South, where I live, local regional universities graduate as few as 35% of their students in four to five years. Of whom many have financed college with debt that cannot be repudiated. College over here now offers as much downward or upward mobility. Perhaps greater awareness of the mess (or diversity) of US higher ed. would temper British debate on this subject?

  • Dr. John David Leaver 23rd Jul '16 - 8:27pm

    Oh, sorry, just wanted the Lib Dem label next to my previous post. I find if I login, I get it. Previously comments posted without login!

  • Anna Pitcher 24th Jul '16 - 10:09pm

    I apologise for taking so long to respond to these comments and although I’d love to reply to them all, apparently my post was too long.

    I wanted to say that despite what I wrote, I still don’t necessarily think that university should be entirely ‘free’, and the loan IS a good idea so that primary and secondary education is still funded more, and people from ‘poorer backgrounds’ still have the opportunity to get good secondary education AND the opportunity to have access to a loans system, as their parents may not be able to fund university.

    Andrew McCraig – I do think that taxation is a very good idea, however would this also cover living costs? I feel like that is the most stressful part, due to everyone getting different amounts, whereas the £9000 per year is automatically covered. Also would everyone pay the same or would it be dependent on how much someone earns?

    I’m pretty disappointed that it has also been announced that erasmus may be no more as well… all the funding and opportunities are gone and I’m so glad that I’ve had that opportunity this last year and am praying future students and generations will be able to partake in the opportunity.

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