University fees

Lord Soley

This debate is about to resurface following the Browne report published today. I was a reluctant convert to student fees as I had benefited from a grant system in the 1960’s but it became clear to me that if we wanted to increase the number of people going to university we had to find a new way of funding it. I was also persuaded that it was the wrong set of priorities to give a very large state subsidy to students and a very low one to primary and pre school children. Fees help to address these problems

So should it be a graduate tax or should it be differential repayments with those earning more than £35,000 paying back more than those who earn less?

 Answers please – and lets here from some students and university staff.

28 comments for “University fees

  1. Lord Blagger
    12/10/2010 at 10:56 am

    My take is that as the students are over 18, they should accept responsibility for their decisions, and their parents income is irrelevant. They are adults, not children.

    That means, they pay the full cost of their education and they shouldn’t expect a subsidy from others.

    Just as Lords claiming their expenses are recompense for all their taxes, having someone on the poverty line pay 2,500 pounds a year to a student or a lord, both are morally wrong.

    So I would suggest a 5% interest rate on the borrowing, in line with gilts. ie. Students should be able to borrow via the government at Gilt rates.

  2. Gareth Howell
    12/10/2010 at 12:46 pm

    The state system of benefits and taxation,
    (negative and positive taxation)is effective, usually very well managed, frequently tinkered with to achieve the proper effect.

    I am certain that the changes described in the last few days for student payments, re-payments, will amount to a similar re-grading for the same “fairness”(!)

  3. Croft
    12/10/2010 at 1:20 pm

    “So should it be a graduate tax or should it be differential repayments with those earning more than £35,000 paying back more than those who earn less?”

    ‘paying back’ is the interesting part. As I understand it the proposals will prevent UK (but not international) students paying for their education up front, force them to take out a loan that may not want and then force them to make repayments wholly disconnected from the cost of their course or an assessed benefit of their gain from such course for 30 years. (knowing that 60% of their fellow students won’t pay such loans back.)

    At what stage is a ‘loan’ a tax by another name.

  4. 12/10/2010 at 2:01 pm

    I’m not keen on the idea of a graduate tax as it means a permanent extra tax merely for having been to university even when it doesn’t guarantee higher earnings. The current proposals seem to be a better bounded solution and I can see some merit in the tweaking of interest rates so the better off can help subsidise the poorer students. Having said that I also have a lot of sympathy with Lord Blagger’s position, students are adults. However while you may be legally an adult students still often benefit from their parents income and that does give an advantage to students from better off backgrounds.

    One thing I do worry about though is the effect these fee rises will have on science/engineering courses. Since they are generally more expensive to run I worry we’ll see more students pick cheaper, non science based courses.

    • Senex
      13/10/2010 at 12:25 pm

      “I worry we’ll see more students pick cheaper, non science based courses.”

      The Commons is full of such people many with art degrees; understandable of course because politics is, the art of the possible. However, the nation is flat on its back. Its infrastructure is held up by foreign expertise because all that matters to the Commons is that they provide something popular so that people will put their mark on a ballot paper in a general election.

      Take a peek at the degree qualifications of this lot:

      Oh that we should be so lucky in the skills selection of our Parliamentary candidates?

  5. Dave H
    12/10/2010 at 5:31 pm

    I would take issue with the bit about wanting more people to go to university. The net effect has been to devalue degrees to the point where they are not worth what students are expected to pay to acquire one. A good proportion of those at university would probably be better off in the longer term had they chosen an alternative route into their eventual career.

    I suspect that if we do impose serious fees, there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth for a few years because those in the pipeline now are financially unprepared, but in ten years or so, we’ll be more like the US system where different institutions charge different amounts and degrees from some institutions are perceived to be better than others.

    Oh, and a definite no to a graduate tax. It should not be necessary to pay an extra premium for life just because one went to university. I can see people graduating and emigrating to avoid such a tax, and how do you deal with those who do some or all of the course and fail to get a degree at the end? Given that a First can command higher wages than a Third, are you going to tax people more for demonstrating hard work and intelligence (for both are needed for a First)?

    • Croft
      13/10/2010 at 1:29 pm

      “but in ten years or so, we’ll be more like the US system where different institutions charge different amounts and degrees from some institutions are perceived to be better than others.”

      I would like to think so but the evidence so far suggests that if limits are raised then all; the good, the bad and the truly dreadful universities will have the same fees. I expect this to be a near certainty if the suggested 6k level is set with it only breaking down if there is sufficiently low financial penalty on much higher fees when the poor unis simply won’t be able to sustain high fees and will have to operate on a market rate. I have limited faith in many of the lower end unis wanting a functioning market and fighting as far as they can to prevent it.

      Where it exists at present – foreign students and post grads it works well but this is largely a market among the better than average unis. Interestingly one aspect of the new ‘bill’ is it brings part time students into the state system and removes a functioning market. Not a good sign.

    12/10/2010 at 6:42 pm

    I hav no coment, for I have no sokution, but do think that education si the key tot he future, and that we shoudl attempt to see to it that peopel get a higher education if they so desire it. I simply don’t know any proper way to go about it, I’m afraid.

  7. Chris K
    12/10/2010 at 7:20 pm

    It’s one thing wanting to increase the numbers of those going to university. Indeed it’s admirable.

    It’s quite another to set some ridiculous and unaffordable target of 50%, as the last Labour government did.

    Many of the courses undertaken are of little value on the job market and simply burden a generation with debt from the start of their adult lives, and merely delay economic productivity.

    I actually think what the last government did (perpetuating the myth that a degree lands you a great job, making those who don’t go to university feel inferior, forcing universities to take on more foreign students to compensate for the absurd fee cap…) was pretty cruel.

    That’s one student’s opinion.

  8. Lord Blagger
    12/10/2010 at 10:17 pm

    still often benefit from their parents income
    In almost all cases is that they have benefited from the parents aspirations and assistance, primarily schooling whilst they were children. Money is less of a matter.

    However, if you are poor, and have to send your children to a sink school, you are screwed in lots of cases from the age of 4-5.

    That’s the real tragedy, its nothing to do university.

    What the idiotic protesters don’t realise is that if they don’t pay now, they they are going to pay later, its going on the governments credit card otherwise. A large proportion will be anyway.

    Quite why someone on minimum wage should subsidise them is beyond me too. It’s all the bleatings of a special interest group getting annoyed at losing their subsidy.

    However, from what I can see, I’ll get my studying funded.

  9. Senex
    12/10/2010 at 11:27 pm

    LS: When you say “I had benefited from a grant system in the 1960’s” Wiki says of you: “He went to the University of Strathclyde, where he gained a BA in Politics and Psychology in 1968, then the University of Southampton, where he gained a Diploma in Applied Social Studies in 1970.” Why did you go to a Scottish university?

    Given how you ended up I would say the state subsidised education you received was well spent because it was vocational. Having said that how did this education prepare you for your role as an MP? Given what you know now after many years learning on the job in Parliament you must consider that in reality you had only the most superficial of knowledge of how Parliament worked.

    Now some 98% of the Commons fills with people with university degrees of one kind or another unrelated to the job and with no formal qualification from Parliament in its principles and practice, the constitution its law and history or the art of governance.

    Why can’t people come to a Parliament that offers internships in its necessary skills? As for university fees, if employers feel that a position requires a degree let it be means tested for vocational fit. If the fit is a good one then the state should pick up the tab; if the match is a bad one then the employer should pay. As MPs have no employer individuals would have to pay off their own fees.

    And as to your recent post where you said “my past is catching up with me” may I suggest that its when that past flashes before your very eyes that you should really start to worry?

    Ref: Clive Stafford Soley, Baron Soley,_Baron_Soley

  10. Lord Soley
    Clive Soley
    13/10/2010 at 8:16 am

    Alex Bennee – I share your concern about engineering and science. Hopefully the agreed system will take into account the importance of not pricing out certain courses.
    I do want to see more people going to university and not just because other countries are increasing places. There is a general recognition that education to an advanced level does create a better informed and wealthy society.

    • Croft
      13/10/2010 at 1:31 pm

      “I share your concern about engineering and science. Hopefully the agreed system will take into account the importance of not pricing out certain courses.”

      While I agree and see no issue in the state choosing to subsidise or advantage vital courses the graduates you mention have very good employability -v- most other degrees at present so should have more certainty of financial return even on a even playing field.

  11. Lord Blagger
    13/10/2010 at 10:24 am

    Now some 98% of the Commons fills with people with university degrees of one kind or another unrelated to the job and with no formal qualification from Parliament in its principles and practice, the constitution its law and history or the art of governance.

    Take the lords.

    Why don’t they have a hairdresser in the Lords? After all there are lots of hairdressers in the UK. Shouldn’t the Lords have someone with experience of that trade?

    Instead, we have failed MPs populating the bench. All they know about is fiddling expenses, then handing the cash back when caught. Examples abound.

  12. Lord Blagger
    13/10/2010 at 4:49 pm

    All the unis will do is have a meeting of the VC’s, agree on a nod and wink, and suddenly they all increase their prices simultaneously.

    Illegal under competition law, but try proving it.

  13. Gareth Howell
    13/10/2010 at 6:23 pm

    “my past is catching up with me” may I suggest that its when that past flashes before your very eyes that you should really start to worry?

    Or as recently when the noble Lord King marched out of St Stephen’s entrance in high dudgeon and surprisingly the traffic stopped for him, without his looking in either direction or batting an eye lid, or even with any help from a kindly policeman.

    The past neither caught up with him, nor did it flash before his eyes and he still got across the road.

    May Noble Clive suffer the same fate!

    Lord King probably has a charmed life due to his university education, which must count for something.

    • Senex
      17/10/2010 at 6:48 pm

      Hurrah! The King lives. God saved the King?

  14. ZAROVE
    13/10/2010 at 9:31 pm

    I actually agree with you in that regard. Not that Ill be heard this late in the game ( and with a newfound unfortunate reputation, but hey I’m not sorry, had to be done) but I don’t think simply providing an education makes someone better informed.

    It doesn’t.

    At least not outside of the field they study.

    If I become the worlds greatest Physicist (Borrowing from the Hawking Thread) and have a PhD and am recognised in the Field as the worlds leading Physicist, that only means I have skills and knowledge in Physics. When someone starts to discuss economics, I may put fourth an idea that’s completely stupid. I never studied Economics you see, only Physics. TO live in a society though you need more than just one thing.

    The big problem though is that we tend to Treat those with Degrees as if they actually know more than they do. I’ve seen people with unrelated degrees comment on Psychological Sciences (what I’m studying) and get things terribly wrong. I’ve seen men interviewed on the State of the Economy and listened to as if they are experts who have never had any knowledge or experience in regulating an economy.

    Once I complete my degree I will be a Doctor in Psychology. Would you trust my judgement, on that basis alone, to fix your car?

    Meanwhile, I do have interests I’ve pursued outside of my Physiological degree. I know History better than most, I know Theology, I know Politics, ect… but, I know next to nothing about Sports.

    Everyone is like that, they know some things and not others.

    But the Trick to an informed society is teaching people how to read, remember, and think. We no longer do this and most of our education is based on simply training for a specific job.

    One need not have a Proper Education, as in a University degree, to be able to read and understand he things one reads, or to understand what’s happening in society. One needs instead simply the ability too reason, which should be more emphasised ( and I don’t mean by the so-called Rationalises who are just out for humanism.)

    People can manage to lead successful lives without a University Degree and be intelligent. The benefit of a degree is a proven skill which lets you work better jobs.

  15. Matthew
    14/10/2010 at 5:34 pm

    I work as a researcher at a reasonably well-regarded university, and am concerned at these proposals. The arguments seem to see a degree as solely a financial benefit to the undergraduate student, neglecting any broader value universities may have to society.

    Precious little consideration is being given to the access implications of the alarming quantities of debt students are going to be asked to take on to go to university. If we have differential fees, then bright students with poor or unwilling parents are going to be stuck between a cheap degree somewhere close to home and not very good, or a far more expensive degree at a good university.

    It’s all very well saying that more students should live at home, but many students don’t live near a good university; perhaps more importantly, those of us who benefited from a more state-subsidized university degree will have developed and grown up a lot as a result of living away from home whilst studying.

    If the argument is that students end up better off than those who have not done a degree, then why not fund universities out of some extra higher-rate tax? Sure, some rich people who didn’t go to university will end up paying a little more for university education, but that hardly seems unfair – it’s not like we insist that the sickly pay more for the NHS!

    Finally, it’s worth remembering that many of the people (in press and parliament) saying that it’s only fair that students pay their own way through university didn’t have to do so themselves.

  16. ladytizzy
    14/10/2010 at 6:54 pm

    Is an extra £100k (maybe) over the entire working life of a potential student from a dirt poor background more alluring than, say, a single appearance as an X Factor contestant? Or a compo claim, or a lottery rollover week?

    The old system was top-heavy with students from relatively well-off families apparently indulging themselves in academic studies before taking over Papa’s business. Harold Wilson created The Open University and immediately added another fifth to the total number of undergraduates in the UK. Today, the typical tuition fees charged for a 3-year degree course is £5k from The OU (c.£1700pa).

    I’m struggling to understand why any impoverished student would want to pay through the nose for a degree that may well prove worthless just so the University of Shoelacing can survive.

  17. 17/10/2010 at 8:33 pm

    Universities have become exclusively career-training institutions, for jobs in the Employers’ Sector.

    The Employers reap all the major rewards and certainly all the major profits.

    Therefore the Employers should pay 100% for the Universities, their upkeep, and their students’ costs.


    • finovotny
      13/12/2010 at 12:16 am

      I think there is something to this idea, in the shape of a 1% tax on gross before deductions, levied on employers, and ringfenced to education at all levels. Combine this with a small rise in tuition fees, an overall reduction or at least a standstill of student numbers created through raising the bar for admission, and a similar cut to the teaching budget as to other parts of the public sector, and you may find a much better balance.

      My education benefits me, yes, but it benefits my employer more. If I am expected to fund some of it, so too should employers. It’s in their interest as well that we have a literate, educated workforce.

      • Lord Blagger
        13/12/2010 at 10:31 am

        New taxes solve nothing. It’s high taxation, high borrowing, and high spending that is the cause of this problem.

        Companies are already leaving the UK. Taxes? They have gone. eg. Google.

  18. Lord Blagger
    18/10/2010 at 10:03 am

    So if the Employer pays for the Employee, no doubt you would accept that the employer is able to bond the employee to working until the ‘debt’ is paid off. ie. Back to singing indenture papers.

    The rational employer then suppresses wages in order to compensate for the extra costs.

    There is no such thing as a free lunch unless you screw someone else to pay for your education.

    Do you want to be screwed?

    • finovotny
      13/12/2010 at 12:23 am

      No, you’re assuming a one-to-one individual relationship, as if the employer were funding the employee directly. Education is a public good, any monies raised from corporate employers should be combined with the state allocation for the various levels of education and should be distributed between primary, secondary and tertiary education. 100% would not work, but — if you must stick with this ‘who benefits’ model at all — why shouldn’t those who benefit from the education of the people they hire also make a contribution to the system?

      • Lord Blagger
        13/12/2010 at 10:30 am

        It’s not a public good anymore when it comes to students.

        They have funded it, and they should get the benefits of that education via lower taxes.

        When it comes to employer’s benefiting, they pay the benefit to the employee in the form of pay. ie. They pay that cost out, plus lots of tax gets paid in the process.

        Again, you’re wanting students to take the risk of the loan, plus get the benefit in the form of taxation on top.

        It’s unfair. Either its fully funded, and taxed later. If you tax students, you have to then reduce the taxes for non students or those that self fund.

        If the students fund, then they get a reduced taxation.

        • finovotny
          14/12/2010 at 5:50 pm

          Actually, I don’t want students to take the risk of a loan, I believe tuition for higher education *is* a public good, and should therefore be funded wholly by the state. I don’t actually agree with a lifelong graduate tax either, so I was considering other options, which I’m convinced there are if the Coalition were not ideologically hell-bent on privatising the entire sector. Which, as a part of HE, looks to me as not only spelling disaster, but achieving no real savings under the present plan.

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