THE FEES KNEES
If you, like me, have been born into a system where tuition fees are the responsibility of students and their families, you might find it difficult to picture a utopia where the government paid for everything. If you were to travel back in time to 1962 you could step into a Britain where the government actually paid your tuition. But did this help students in the long run, or does the current system in place provide more opportunities?
In a University setting, I feel like trying to start a debate on the pros and cons of tuition fees and student loans is considered bad etiquette by almost everyone. It’s always assumed instantly that you’re not in favour of this monstrous legislation that’s slashes the expectations of hundreds and thousands of soon to be financially disenfranchised students, who will apparently be swimming in debt until the day they drop. That being said, I do have a different opinion to most when it comes to tuition fees. I am in support of the fees. To me, they are the realisation of a government who, prompted by reality, decided to keep the option of education open to all and were simply forced to make some sacrifices to do it. Or perhaps, more accurately, were forced to ask us students to make a sacrifice in order to achieve an education.
I think £9250 is a bit too much to charge though, and suggest that the spending cap could be dropped to £6000, or something similar, in order to help students accumulate less of a debt over their course, whilst also contributing to their education. Some articles claim that tuition fees drive hopeful applicants away with their high costs. This is not surprising, and statistics do show that every time the spending cap has increased, applications have declined slightly. But the thing that I feel is not reported enough is that the number always bounces back, and then some. Studies conducted by the Department for Education between 2010 and 2014 clearly show that applications for Universities have been steadily climbing and show no signs of slowing down. It’s not just upper-class households. Hopeful students are emerging from both upper- and working-class families at higher numbers now than ever before, and I think this was all made possible by student loans. I think it helps that our repayment model for student loans is brilliant. I believe that it’s inarguably fair that I eventually contribute to the education that will one day award me the qualifications I need to become successful in the world today.
The best way to realise how good we actually have it in this country is to compare the system in place here to America. Going unchecked, badly regulated and corrupted by greed. The American student loan crisis has gotten worse and then a lot worse, never seeming to let up. In 2018, Forbes reported that the total student debt in the USA came to $1.52 trillion, a debt that was shared by 44.2 million students. Students who all share the worst kind of debt. In the US, you can’t claim bankruptcy on student loan debt. If a student winds up dead in tragic circumstances, their loan will actually be passed onto their parents who will then have to pay. In Britain, we have a spending Cap which means Universities can only charge up to a set amount which prevents people from going into the red about £100,000 deep. Obviously, some Universities are going to require you to move away from home, I myself am not from London but moved here from the sunny, little, coastal town of Eastbourne (near Brighton). I didn’t have enough money to move, but with a maintenance loan I can afford to live here quite comfortably. And when it comes to repaying your loan, I’m a really big fan of how we do it here. In Britain, we base the amount of money we pay back on the amount of money that we earn. You’ll have to make over £21,000 before you start paying back and, even then, it will only be 9% and it will only get higher if you earn more. It is designed to only take what you can definitely spare. I know there have been some complaints about the loan rising in interest so much that you end up paying more then you should. But compare this system to the American model and I think a big sigh of relief is the only appropriate response.
But all of this is not the real reason I am in favour of tuition fees. I’m not here to brainwash anyone, I simply believe that with higher education growing the way it is, and considering the size it has already achieved, it would be ridiculous to ask the government to foot an impossible bill. The NHS, transport, infrastructure, the environment, national security. These all cost money, but the government has an incentive to use taxes to improve these pillars of society because they benefit everyone. Educating the students of tomorrow will of course benefit the country. It’s an immeasurable investment. But education helps the individual more than it helps the community, so it is only fair that you pay your dues in order to walk through the doors that university will open down the line. There are plenty of reasons to agree with abolishing student loans and tuition fees, but I think most people only root for it because the grass looks greener when you’re not paying for it.