Can we solve the cost of university tuition?

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This week, the Point of Information editors will be debating the issue of university tuition fees that are in higher education institutions across the UK.

Tuition fees were introduced in the UK in 1998, after an inquiry found that higher education needed a significant boost in funding. Students fees were means tested depending on their annual household income.

Fees have risen significantly in just over two decades of being introduced and currently stand at £9,250 per year. However, devolved governments were given the ability to decide fees, with the Scottish Assembly deciding to abolish them in the country.

Tuition fees in the UK are among the highest in the world and are far more costly than many European nations. For example, students in France pay around 189.0 EUR a year for a bachelor’s degree and German students do not pay any fees.

The cost of tuition fees in the UK has been described as “Frankenstein’s monster” debt by Lord Adonis, one of the Labour politicians responsible for their introduction.

An average UK student completing a three year course will leave university with approximately £50,000 of debt to repay.

Tuition fees are a contentious in the UK and are always a point of debate at general elections. So, should they be lowered or scrapped all together?

Written by POI Correspondent, Emer Kelly

Student Maintenance is The Real Killer – Labour article

“There’s no easy way to say this: we made a pledge, we didn’t stick to it – and for that, I am sorry”. The famous words of former Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, were said in September 2012. Whilst some of you may immediately start thinking of the rather brilliant autotune remix of this speech, it marked a period in which University became a whole new ball game. Fees leapt to £9,000 a year… a gut wrenching figure which shocks many of my European counterparts.

This move was the last nail in the coffin for the ‘traditional university system’, and saw universities transformed into businesses rather than educational institutions. We’ve seen a perpetuation of elitism, with middle class students “still four times more likely to go to university than poorer contemporaries”. A culture of debt is growing around Higher Education. The average student owes £50,000 upon graduation, meaning that many bright students from poorer backgrounds are repelled from the idea of university, or simply cannot afford it.

One cannot, therefore, blame students for lapping up Jeremy Corbyn’s 2017 offer to abolish tuition fees. It seems to equalise Higher Education and open up university to those who may have otherwise written it off.

That said, I am not convinced that the tuition fees are the central issue, it’s student maintenance which needs immediate reform. Under the current system, graduates only begin paying back their tuition fees when they are earning over a certain threshold.

If, however, after 30 years the loan hasn’t been fully repaid, the loan is cancelled. Whilst I am an advocate of lowering fees in order to make university more accessible. I do believe that this system does constitute a kind of progressive graduate tax . Something that those earning more should be contributing to the State.

This might sound shockingly ‘unLabour’ to many. However, surely it is the most just way for a State to function is for those benefiting from a service to pay back into it, so that others may also benefit. That is how we support state education and the NHS.

The real injustice in our current system, is student maintenance. Insufficient for many, it leaves the burden of living costs on the shoulders of parents of students, many of whom cannot afford it, or simply aren’t around to support the student.

In 2016, student maintenance grants were scrapped and replaced with loans. This has left poorer students owing £7,000 more than those who are better off. It has also resulted in many ‘middle income’ families, who fall in the lower loan category, being expected to bridge the funding gap for their children. This parent funding can be several thousands of pounds. If your family can’t support you, how can a student pursue university without a bursary or scholarship?

In 2018, a report by the NUS on poverty among working class students found that many students fall below student living funds, and are unable to pay for essentials like food or heating. Clearly our student finance system is rigged against the working class, those who are severely underrepresented in Higher Education as it is.

Labour would reintroduce living grants and reform student finance so that university becomes a viable choice for students of all backgrounds. Maintenance grants are the key to improving accessibility.

Written by Labour Writer, Isabella Jewell

Point of Information

Miss Jewell sums up what I say far better – a Liberal response

Miss Jewell always provides an extremely good article for POI and this time there is no exception. Unfortunately, her argument is rather similar to mine, which means people can now clearly see why we at POI love having her here – she just writes great articles!

She manages to hit the nail on the head, pointing to maintenance loans being the true killer. I wish she, as the Labour candidate, took more time to back removing tuition fees as a whole. Her statement about how universities are now run as a business and not for educational means is particularly echoing, especially after recent professor strikes.

To conclude, my only issue with Miss Jewell’s article this week is that it is far better than mine.

Written by Liberal Writer, Max Anderson

Time for Labour to come to reality – a Conservative response

Miss Jewell as usual states some interesting points to support her argument for lowering tuition fees. She also argues well how her Labour party will deal with supporting students from less well off families. Though it would seem that Miss Jewell is being left behind by her party, who have argued time and time again to abolish fees. It is nice to see that even Miss Jewell is turning away from the Labour party.

I agree with Miss Jewell on lowering fees and we are both supported by the Auger report which states this. Students are simply not getting enough bang for their buck and universities must deliver more beneficial courses. Though, I can not agree with Miss Jewell over the idea that money is causing students to be deterred from trying to achieve higher education.

The Labour party wanted to abolish tuition fees and stated that this would cost between 6 to 11 billion pounds. What a waste of money. Tuition fees allow more students to come to university without the universities having to places caps on places. Official reports say that the fees should only be lowered and not scrapped, the British public have voted for a party to lead them that is not anti-Tuition fees. It is time that Labour face the reality.

Written by Conservative Writer, Jack Kane

Lower tuition fees to make room for living expenses – Liberal article

I am very lucky. I am extremely lucky that I have, to a certain extent, a get out of jail free card with my parents. If I desperately need money, I hope they can help me. This is not to say that they pay for my university, far from it. However, this safety net to fall back on if needed, is extremely helpful. I never had to sit down and consider whether or not I should go to university. I always had the choice. However, most don’t have this luxury. Most will also have to work extremely hard to be able to afford living at university.

This is to me the most important phrase, living at university. Tuition fees can be paid off with student loans. That is an extremely oversimplified look but there is that benefit. What some fail to see, as this question has, is living expenses and how that can hurt students right now and everyday.

It can cost a student £807 a month, which when you look at the expenses, seems to be a very budgeted version. For example, I think most students spend a lot more than £49 a month on going out.

However, although most could have a part time job, students have to attend university with a maintenance loan that does not cover it. This means time that students could use studying and improving their grades have to take on part time minimum wage jobs, balancing work and studying. It can be harder than you think, and does really hurt students grades.

Students who work more than 20 hours a week, which is not uncommon, will have a much ‘lower grade point averages’. More money is needed to help students focus on studying and not scraping by. Perhaps the answer for this lies within tuition fees.

Through our student loans, the government pays our university fees which we then pay back. We can also provided with a maintenance loan which can vary on amount depending on your background and family income.

The maintenance loan needs to be increased, and if the tuition are ‘cut to £7,500’ like Parliaments review committee has recommended, it could provide more money to give to students directly.

Most might just say, ‘get a job’. Is it worth spending £9,250 a year on university fees when you won’t be able to get a good result because you are working the whole time? Then, why not just start working? Here we meet our problem – it should be a choice to if you want to go to university or not. It shouldn’t be reserved for the those who have a higher household income.

We are entering a world now where most jobs in the UK require a degree. This comes as we are attempting to provide better services nationally and internationally. It is essential that Britain’s workforce remains one of the strongest in the world. We can’t let universities grow out of reach of those who want it.

So why not go one step further? Remove tuition fees. This is what our Scandinavian brother Denmark is doing, and are reaping the rewards. As Dan Jorgenson tell Fox News, Denmark are: 8th in the world for employment; 6th most educated country in the world; and is one of the best countries for start up business according to Forbes.

Is it not worth at least lowering, or at most removing tuition fees to help students focus on their degree? I think so.

Written by Liberal Writer, Max Anderson

Point of Information

Money put to better use, leave tuition fees alone – a Conservative response 

I am similar to Mr Anderson in that we are very lucky to have parents who can act as a safety net. Having been to school together we are both aware of our luck. I however, must critique Mr Anderson on his article which started off in such a promising manor.

Mr Anderson at the end of his articles states that “Is it not worth at least lowering, or at most removing tuition fees to help students focus on their degree? I think so.” I can not support the second half of his argument by the means of abolishing tuition fees.

Firstly, they are not a deterrent in stopping students from less well of families achieving higher education. Furthermore, these fees allow universities not to place caps on the number of students for each course. This would be outrageously unfair on those students from less prominent economic backgrounds. We must continue the course of students not being denied a chance to seek higher education and I’m afraid Mr Anderson’s plan does this.

More needs to be done in helping students from less well of backgrounds achieve higher education and this is why we must not spend 6 to 11 billion pounds abolishing fees. The idea is a waste of money. Money which must be spent on helping these students reach and succeed at university.

Written by Conservative Writer, Jack Kane

The ‘loan’ is the problem, they should make way for grants – a Labour response

Mr Anderson clearly highlights the problems that our current university finance system perpetuates. Students are unable to afford the living costs associated with university, and many have to compromise their studies by working. As Mr Anderson notes, the status quo is deeply unfair, with those from richer backgrounds being able to lean on family members for support, without the preoccupation of financial problems.

His statistic linking lower grades to having a part-time job is a worrying reminder that the system is rigged against poorer students, and only rewards the middle and upper classes.

I do believe, however, that Mr Anderson has missed the point slightly. Whilst there is a funding gap for many students between the amount they borrow and the reality of living costs. The main issue is that this remains a loan, and that means crippling debt.

I agree that student finance should reflect living costs, and shouldn’t leave the burden of the shortfall to family members.

The answer isn’t to increase debt, it is to scrap living loans and reintroduce a system of maintenance grants.

Written by Labour Writer, Isabella Jewell

Look at the evidence and you will see no real support for abolishing tuition fees – Conservative article

The topic of tuition fees is a delicate topic that must be addressed carefully. This week I have found that the arguments surrounding tuition fees are not as clear cut as I first thought.

In 2017 the Labour party pledge to scrap tuition fees causing a ‘youth-quake’ with social media bursting with viral videos of students chanting “oh Jeremy Corbyn.” This resulted in a stronger than expected performance by the Labour party in 2017.

So come 2019, Mr Corbyn and his Labour party again promised to scrap tuition fees. However, the British electorate simply did not agree with the Labour Party. So with there not being a mandate to scrap them, what should the Johnson government do?

We must firstly state some background context and start with the Augar report. This came as a reaction by the former Prime Minister, Theresa May towards Labour’s popular policy of scrapping tuition fees in the 2017 General Election. This report looked into higher education and most importantly, addressing the question of scrapping tuition fees. Its conclusions were that fees should be reduced to £7,500 as well as re-introducing maintenance grants.

It seems that the report does not reach the conclusion that the Labour party would have wanted with fees only being reduced by £1,750. With the Labour party still adamant to scrap tuition fees, we must now look at the side which has the support of government report and the British people.

It seems that the abolition or even the reduction in tuition fees will “swiftly be followed by a curtailment in the number of student places.” With no fees being paid towards universities we will see a vast increase and harsh economic burden imposed on the British tax-payer. Caps on places would be introduced and this is the last thing we want to see. Everyone deserves a right to higher education.

The evidence on students from better-off areas and backgrounds getting into universities are “ two-and-a-half times more likely to reach higher education.” Abolishing tuition fees will simply restrict the number of people reaching university and we can not have this. We can’t allow the middle class to over-whelm the university system, it is not fair nor equal.

The other argument is over the issue that tuition fees act as a deterrent to students from seeking higher education. This is simply not the case with the highest level of students applying and going to university from lesser-off backgrounds. The problem, however, is that if the Labour party had been elected into government the idea of scrapping tuition fees would have been a nightmare.

The estimated cost of abolishing these fees is between 6 and 11 billion pounds and this would have created such an unnecessary burden on the British taxpayer. In order to find this hefty amount of money, the Labour government would have had to raise taxes which would have been outrageously unpopular. With other issues requiring more attention it is vital that important amounts of money are spent on issues that truly need it.

Written by Conservative Writer, Jack Kane

Point of Information

If you’re concerned about equality, reintroduce maintenance grants – a Labour response

Mr Kane’s concerns regarding the elitism of university are admirable. His protest that “we can’t allow the middle class to over-whelm the university system. It is not fair nor equal” is something I thoroughly agree with.

Unfortunately for Mr Kane, it isn’t the scrapping of fees that would cause this dystopian world, it is in fact the reality. In 2017, the Department for Education found that the gap between state and private school students at the top universities is huge – and growing. In 2014/15 the gap was 43%, up from 37% in 2008.

As I have argued, the real problem stems from the conservative decision to scrap maintenance grants. This is what prevents many people from committing to university, and hence the entire student maintenance system needs to be reformed.

A head in hands moment for Mr Kane – a Liberal response

As I began reading Mr Kane’s article, I thought he would have read my last response and decide not to keep going on about the election. However, he has not and again provided a piece that really fails to bring any hope to those who didn’t want a Conservative majority.

Mr Kane’s fears of taxpayers having to carry the burden for university fees is well founded, and would be a problem. However, his conclusion saying that it would restrict those outside the middle-class going to university seems a bit bizarre. The university system is already biased. The aim should be to make it more open not keep the status quo. It isn’t an invalid point, but seems redundant to suggest that is may have a negative effect when the probability is untrue.

I do commend Mr Kane on bringing up the review that Mrs May commissioned, but I would think, if he read the report in full, he would disagree with it. Mr Kane’s article for the third week in a row just rely’s on the election, and waffles for the rest. I hope again next week will change.

Written by Liberal Writer, Max Anderson

Isabella Jewell
Labour political writer at | Website

I have just finished my second year at The University of Manchester studying French and Italian and am about to leave the Northern Powerhouse for a year abroad.

Max Anderson
Publisher/founder at | Website

I am currently in my second year of reading Politics at the University of Exeter. My first interaction with politics was at the tender age of four years old.

Jack Kane
Conservative political writer at | Website

Hello, my name is Jack Kane and I am third year undergraduate at the University of Exeter. I am a studying Politics and will graduate Exeter in the summer of 2020. I have been interested and engaged in Politics since a very young age.

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