All entries for Monday 09 January 2006

January 09, 2006

Cameron on Tuition Fees

From BBC News:

The Conservative Party has announced a U-turn on student finance and proposes to keep student tuition fees. Previously it had promised to scrap all fees, including top-ups being introduced from this autumn in England. On Monday party leader David Cameron told sixth formers that if universities were to be well funded, the money had to come from somewhere. In another change Mr Cameron also said he believed there should be no limit on student numbers..At the last election, the Conservatives said they would scrap all tuition fees while retaining Labour's reintroduced grants for poorer students. Instead they had said they would have bigger student loans at a commercial interest rate, rather than the effective zero rate that applies now.

Provided he adopts Labourís plans to allow deferred payment of tuition fees, this sounds fair. Large loans reduce the need for less wealthy students to work while at university, which limit the amount of time that can be spent on academic work. The deferred fees arrest the decline in the quality of UK universities relative to those abroad. These are the key problems highlighted by LSEís Nicholas Barr an avid proponent of variable income-contingent fees. In a report for the House of Commons Education and Skills Committee he states,

There is agreement, first, about two core problems:

Students are poor because the system of support does not give them enough to live on. Two results follow: students have to turn to expensive overdraft and credit-card debt and/or to extensive part-time work; and the parsimony of support is an impediment to access for people contemplating university.

Universities are poor, creating worries about quality. The UK would have to spend an extra £3.5 billion per year to reach the EU average.

Itís understandable that the prospect of hefty debt following university may put people off; particularly the poor, for whom further education is most needed. However, if people are forward looking enough to think about the debt theyíll leave with, should they not also consider the higher earning potential yielded by a marketable degree? Rather than being a justification for subsidies, an aversion to taking on debt is reason for parents and teachers to engage students in serious, practical discussions when these decisions must be made.

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