Rarely have I felt more positive about a proposed piece of legislation than the higher education provisions that we are about to vote on tomorrow. The progressive Browne plan for free student education, with the Government, not families, paying up front a more realistic tuition fee to individual universities is a vast improvement on the current situation where almost everyone ends up in debt, students, families and universities too. The new proposals will mean that only those graduates who eventually get jobs above the average salary will pay back anything. The currently available evidence does not support the view that real loan debt has put off students from poorer backgrounds from applying so it’s unlikely that the risk of future debt will put off students from poorer backgrounds either.
The fact is that my student grant to study medicine back in the 1960s, free for me, was paid for largely by ordinary working people who earned a lot less than I was eventually able to do. That seemed tolerable as long as there were relatively few people who went to university at a relatively modest cost to the taxpayer. But we now rightly want a higher proportion of the population of young people and mature part-timers too to benefit from higher education and it’s no longer sustainable to fund everyone who could benefit from the working population, especially as the primary beneficiary of an education is the individual themselves.
There is a natural sympathy with the student protesters (the majority well behaved ones that is), but I wonder if any of them have considered the practical provisions at all? Strikes me they are extra-ordinarily misinformed. Why would they protest about a system which will be cheaper for the majority, widens access to more students, will exert more pressure on universities to respond to local student opinion on quality and will see their education providers less likely to go bust? The coalition plans are first rate and I shall look forward to voting for the Government tomorrow.