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January 17, 2006

Top–up Fees are the way forward, especially if you want good education

The following is the unedited version of my Boar article…..the editor cut out all the interesting bits….

The debate on top-up fees has been raging for quite while now, with students protesting over the increase and politicians using it as a way of getting much needed votes. But have we really considered why they are needed? Are they really as bad as it might seem at first?

There are two sides to the argument, the first one is as David Cameron puts it, ďYou want to go to universities that are well-funded, [with] good tutors, good facilities and I want as many people who think they're going to benefit from university to be able to go.Ē The argument the students give is that education is a right and it must be provided for by the government. I shall attempt to convince you that in practice privatization and tuition fees are the way forward.

The main problem is that higher education institutes in UK just do not have the money needed to improve facilities and compete with institutions in other countries. Universities in America are largely funded privately with little or no intervention from the government. Yale University for example has an endowment of around £8.5 billion, as a result of which not only is it able to attract the best professors from around the world, but it is also able to give by means of scholarships and grants the best education to students from under-privileged backgrounds. Where does all this money come from? It comes from generous alumni, funding secured by the university to conduct research, and of course student fees. Last year private donors in Americans gave £13.8 billion to universities, whereas in UK excluding Oxbridge (£2 Billion) Only 5 UK universities (see table) have endowments worth $100 million, compared with 207 American universities that have a similar endowment. This huge discrepancy can in no way be compensated for by any government. The average tuition fees at Yale is more than £15,000 a year for undergraduates, but that does not mean only rich students apply. Families that cannot afford the fees are only required to pay up to a level deemed affordable according to their income status, while a lot of students get full scholarships If education can be afforded, then people must pay for it, and as many families in US can, they do pay for it.

Now you might be wondering why I am going on about American universities, and what this has to do with you as a Warwick student. Well economically speaking, a reason most students come to university is so that they get a head start in their careers. As Tony Blair pointed out university graduates do earn 50% more than those who do not go to University. Without sufficient funding, universities will not be able to employ enough staff or even maintain current ones, for example Middlesex university just announced the closure of its history department as it just does not have the resources to teach it. Todayís world is a highly connected and competitive one where the best universities attract the best students and professors, as American universities pay the highest salaries and give out generous grants to local as well as foreign students, they are guaranteed to attract the best of both. As a result the value of a degree from a UK university is bound to fall. It simply will not be worth going to university if a university cannot afford to employ a good staff to teach. It wonít enhance your competitiveness, it will not significantly enhance your knowledge nor will it provide you with essential skills that universities are supposed to provide. It isnít just by magic that a much higher proportion of students go to university in US then anywhere else in the world.

The only way to get rid of tuition fees is for the government to fund every single university. Now, one would have thought that given the government in UK is largely responsible for university funding, government funding per university student in UK should be higher than America. But even if we were to compare government funding across UK and US, we see that an average State University in US receives £7,500 per student whereas in UK apart from the Oxbridge, the figure is £5000, so much for relying on the government. Now yes, I agree in the principle that every student has the right to education, but surely every student wants a good education. Take Germany for example, it has 300 free colleges and universities with more than 1.8 million students, which has resulted in overfull classes, where getting to the lecture itself is the hardest part. Despite its current scenario, every year only 41% of students a year get the grade in high school to qualify for university, a figure much lower than 53% in US. This means poorer students who want to go to university cannot do so if they donít meet the grade. Free education has meant the government has to supply the resources for university, now this has proved to be a problem. Anyone reading newspapers last year would remember the economical woes of Germany, in this situation with extremely high unemployment rates, and almost no growth in GDP, does anyone really believe universities will still receive decent funding? The government wants to reduce taxes to kick start the economy, but then who will pay for education? In no way is UK immune from such economic problems, and if it were to rely solely on government funding there would be many such problems. We donít want to pay university fees and when we start work we donít want to pay high taxes and then we expect good education, how is this possible?

Unfortunately, what people tend to assume is that tuition fees will stop the poorer students from going to university. In reality, it makes education a worthwhile investment which brings very high returns. Universities have scaled fees in US, where a student going to university such as Harvard with a family income of less that £18,000 will not pay more than 30% of the full tuition fees. What about students whose family wonít pay for them? Well Federal loans just as in UK give out loans for the entire costs of university. Students donít stop going to university because you charge them fees, if it is an investment worth making, you are bound to attract students.

Note- by all means attack my arguments but please don't attack me personally, my previous debates on this topic have not been too pleasant…...thanks.

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