My view on tuition fees

This country, in case anyone hadn’t noticed, is in crisis. The nation is in huge debt and the current coalition government are doing all they can to reduce this. Granted I think they are going totally the wrong way about it in most of the things they are doing, but that’s for another discussion. Basically what I mean is that we are all having to suffer in a variety of ways.

One thing that’s kicked up a storm over the past few months is the row over an increase to tuition fees, with students protesting all over the UK. I wrote this post on the 15th October and it’s just as relevant today, when the vote was taken in the House of Commons. They decided (by a small majority) that the fees in England should be increased.

As a 17 year old I made the choice that I wanted to go to university (well I’d made that decision about 10 years before that but without considering it properly) as I wanted a career in engineering and the only way to make that happen was to get a degree. Of course there are apprenticeships but I’m not great with my hands so the academic route was the best option for me.

Now why should every Tom, Dick and Harry who work hard and pay their taxes have to pay for me to do that? Nobody thinks they should pay for the lazy benefit scroungers, only the people in true need as they are unable to work or whatever their particular circumstance is. So why should every kid who comes out of college wanting to put off the real world for another 3 years, get their university life paid for?

I don’t think anyone should have to pay for other people’s further education, we should all take responsibility for our lives and pay our own way.

I think loans should be made available from a central loan company (like the Student Loans Company only actually capable of loaning students money) for every student regardless of their background or parents wealth. It should not be down to the parents to have to fork out even more money for their children, they’ve spent enough on getting them to 18!

There should be loans to cover the tuition fees & living costs that are only repaid once the students leaves education (either with a degree or not) and is earning above a certain limit AFTER tax (I’d set it at about £20k a year). If a student decides to leave early they are still liable to pay back the money that was borrowed and if a student graduates and lands a job earning £100k a year they still pay back what they borrowed. The loans should be interest free and should be collected as they are currently, straight from your salary so you barely notice its going out, except the money should go straight to pay off your loan not the annual payment that is currently made.

I think the media play a massive role here. They should be showing parents, children, teenagers, mature students – everyone basically – that if they want to further their chosen career it can be done and will cost X amount but it will be worth it! Investing in your future by taking out a student loan shouldn’t be cast along with other debt as it currently is, it should be shown what it is in financial circumstances – a ‘good debt’. Your student loan does not affect your credit rating or likelihood of getting a mortgage. The repayments are low enough that they shouldn’t affect your ability to pay the bills. At the end of the day, if you are doing a decent degree, with a goal in mind so you work hard and graduate with something that’s actually useful (no David Beckham degrees aren’t useful ;)) you will earn enough to make it worthwhile.

For example my background: I went to uni at Oxford Brookes when we paid just over £1k a year in tuition fees with a £4k loan. My family had a low income so I got a grant for the fees. I worked part time throughout my degree as the loan doesn’t cover rent in Oxford as well as your food bills and had to take out credit cards and overdrafts. I graduated after 5 years (I did a sandwich MEng degree which involves 4 years of teaching and 1 year working in industry) with about £20k of student loan debt and almost £10k of other debts. Now this is a bit extreme as I wasn’t good enough with looking after money whilst at uni but I guess the magnitude of debt is roughly what current students will be graduating with. Now £30k is a lot of money but as a graduate engineer I should be earning between £22 – £26k a year. And that’s the starting wage – it varies greatly company to company but suffice to say after a 40 year career that £30k will be money well spent.

Equally people I lived with in my first year did 6 hours a week of studying and the rest of the time partying. Taxpayers definitely shouldn’t be paying for that!



3 thoughts on “My view on tuition fees

  1. I wish it was that straightforward. Unfortunately, the government (whichever party is in power) is so bad at organising stuff that any central loans organisation is inevitably going to be incapable of administering loans correctly. Incorrectly administered loans can and do affect credit ratings and mortgage validity (and worse, court cases for “breach of contract”, even when it was the administrators breaching the contract). The trouble is that any non-governmentally-led loans organisation is going to want to maximise its profit within the boundaries of its agreements with the government (if we’re lucky). So loans are going to be a problem however they’re distributed, simply because the government is incapable of proper administration.

    Also, a lot of the jobs that require degrees are dependent, on some way, on the government for their salary. Engineering is relatively unusual in that most of the jobs are in the private sector, but for those of us who got a degree with the intention of working in a post dependent on the government (which I suspect is the majority when things like posts dependent on political grants are considered), so in effect the majority of government subsidy is going on its future employees. University may well be the cheapest training method out there for government employees because it only costs the government about £15000 for the typical 3-year all-round training course. If it didn’t do that, it would have to rely on either a vast amount of private sector in-job training (8 hours x 24 weeks x 3 years = a lot of money) or hope employees pick up on the skills before making over £15000 worth of errors (that may seem unlikely to happen, but sometimes the people responsible for that ministerial scandal can be deep in admin or HR, and to the politicians a ministerial bungle is worth more than £15000 simply in bruised ego, let alone genuine damage to the country).

    Basically, the government’s payment for students is frequently a bursary and a relatively effective one at that.

    We don’t need graduates in Drunken Studies, but the government apparently needs a lot of people who’ve been through a relatively cheap learning experience. Yes, the government needs to make cutbacks – but it’s having to cut back the number of people it employs, so why not simply restrict the number and types of place it will fund? It needs to look at the skills, knowledge and abilities it needs from each of the graduates it’s likely to employ, then tell universities the government will fund X places in those areas (where X will generally be twice the number of people the government needs due to the public sector being half the British job market). Let the universities tender for those places, with the cost to the government being considered alongside quality, expertise and the other requirements of a good education. In other words, the scheme that already exists for the health professions should be extended to all other subjects the university funds.

    Combinations that are needed by the country, cannot reasonably be supplied by a one-year HND-or-below college course and the government doesn’t directly employ (e.g. engineering) could be done via a similar process, except that representatives of the people who do employ them would be asked to do an appropriate analysis to enable a ballpark estimate of how many new graduates would be needed. No other degree places would be funded. Universities would be free to offer places over and above their allocation (or indeed in subjects for which they have no funding) but they would either have to pay for those students themselves (e.g. if they had a mass of talented students in a given year and the university had a glut of funding) or the students would have to pay (in which case they’d pay the same as international students – who would be free to study in whatever numbers the university wanted, provided they were confirmed on a course the government inspectors had assessed was legitimate).

    This would lead to the government paying for many fewer students but paying all their course fees. This would mean no more loans superstructure (if you’re desperate enough to do uni without going on a paid-for place, you can do it on a commercial loan), which would save the government a humongous amount of money in itself. No more worrying about whether uni is worth it or not – if you can get a place and stay the course, you will get a job where your abilities will be utilised. No more scrabbling for resources – suddenly there’d be enough space and lecturer time for everyone who was studying, which would raise the quality of education, produce better graduates and bring the university staff more job satisfaction to boot.

    The other thing I’d do is make it so the funding the government provided wasn’t purely in the form of direct money. There’d be vouchers for course essentials – one for the course itself, another to be exchanged for each semester’s primary reading list, another to exchange for student accommodation (to a certain value, but every university would be obliged to provide enough for everyone, directly or by monitoring approved private landlords), one for accessibility equipment… …basically, there’d just be a small cash payment each term for spending on such things as (modest) clothes, food and entertainment. This would reduce the drinking culture while still ensuring everyone could have what they needed. It still needn’t be as expensive as the current regime or the new one.

    Students may benefit a lot from university, but so does the government. Most responsible employers pay for their employee’s training to a significant degree – the government should do the same, ensuring equality of process by taking away (reasonable) financial worries in the process, even if that means many fewer students go to university.

  2. Hi Kayleigh,
    I have agree with you on this one and your summary is excellent.
    Do students get any money management help whilst they are at university? This would help them to keep their debt down. Many universities have job sites where students can get part time work to suit their studies and as you say if their degree is a good one then they should have no problem paying the debt back.
    I come from the generation where most of our fees where paid. I didn’t get a grant due my parents income and it did make me a little resentful to watch some of my fellow students squander their time at university. It certainly kept me focussed knowing that there would be some debt at the end to pay off.

  3. There is money management help and job support in universities – but they don’t help those students who are finding that the jobs, which didn’t go round all students wanting them even in boom time, have almost completely dried up (just like for everyone else), nor does the help go much beyond “spend less (admittedly the areas where less can be spent tend to be well-enumerated) and if that doesn’t work, we’ll see if there’s enough in the kitty for an emergency bridging loan”. Now that there won’t be the money for emergency bridging loans, this is going to lead to an increasing number of students being up the creek. The only upside is that the Drunken Studies students will probably start quitting their “courses” in favour of studying for the subjects they actually enrolled for…

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