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Tuition Fee or Not Tuition Fee?

13th October 2010

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In this 'age of austerity' of coalition cuts can future university goers really afford to be saddled with £40,000 worth of debt just to obtain a degree?


On Tuesday Lord Browne's Independent Review of Higher Education and Student Financing recommended that universities should be allowed to decide what fee costs they charge students. This would bring the average fee to £7,000 per year and up to £12,000 for a single student per year, not including a maintenance living loan.

If the government decides to act on his advice this will allow a tangible tier structure to adorn the university system, allowing top ranked universities to charge elevated rates for a more prestigious education and potentially stop middle income families sending their children to more reputable higher education establishments.

University was once seen as "class divide" between the wealthy elite and the poor, allowing social mobility to be stagnant, but now under the new system the middle classes are set to be hit the hardest. The "squeezed middle" that Ed Miliband has labelled them, has already had a caveat from the axe of Mr. Osborne and the Treasury by cutting child benefits to parents earning over £44,000, and now concerns will be palpable over the talk of raising university costs.

One student commented, "The rise in fees will deter people from university - but not the people you'd expect. The rich will still go to university, and so will the poor. Those who are poor will get all sorts of bursaries and grants to cover their tuition fees, and the rich can afford the rise in fees anyway. The people the increase will affect are the middle class those that earn between 40,000 and 80,000 they earn too much to receive grants, but not enough to offset the increase in fees."

The government has also been given "scope" to remove all funding to all subjects except "priority" courses in medicine, languages, engineering and science. David Cameron has repeatedly said "We are all in this together", but this will leave many arts colleges/universities not being able to provide or obtain not only the best facilities but the standard requirements for students. Adam Freeman, currently studying photography at UCA Farnham, a university for the creative arts, said, "It seems as though the government are quite happy to raise the fees but then cut the level of quality for young and upcoming artists. I chose Farnham for the quality of their facilities, two years from now things might be different for future students."

Students may now be looking for an alternative to the English HE system, one option is across the border in Scotland.
Scottish students currently do not pay to go to their homeland universities while their English counterparts who also are educated north of the border pay under £2,000 per year. The green paper will be showed to the Scottish Executive on Friday, many believed it will be noted but not taken on board by the Scottish Parliament.

Another attractive option is venturing further from the nest and going abroad. Germany, the EU's wealthiest and most valuable resource recruits the world's third largest intake of international students. Between 2000 and 2025, its international student numbers are predicted to rise from 1.8 million to 7.2 million. A visa will only cost £55 and approximately £850 per year for the course. Gary, 16, applying to go to university in 2012, posted on The Student Room, "If fees were to go up would you consider studying abroad. Belgium, Italy, Denmark, Holland all offer worldwide respectable degrees in English as well as their own native languages. Considering fees in Europe of £0-£800 commonly about £200 vs.
a possible 7k in England would you take the plunge?" In reply Beth from Surrey agreed and blasted the proposal. "What an outrage, if the fees affect my year, yeah, I'll be off [abroad]. My parents don't like the idea but I don't want the debt."
The critics are out in force for the proposal from Lord Browne but a few current and future HE students believe this is fairer and more practical than the current situation. Lord Browne's suggested alterations mean that no student will have to pay the fees up front and repayments will only begin when the graduate begins to earn £21,000 up from £15,000, including subsidies for interest rates below the new threshold. Heath, who ironically is a Liberal Democrat member and about to apply for HE learning spoke up for the publication, "Lord Browne has written a blinder of a report. Far from being reactionary, students should accept that the consequence of this report is that most of them are likely to find themselves better funded at University, better protected financially when they graduate, and still able to enjoy a world class education."

The Student Room has published its findings through online polls asking all members what they would do if the fees where to change. 43% said they didn't want to go university if the fees rose, while over 80% believed the alternatives to universities were not made clear enough.

The Tory-led government may face a back bench rebellion, as all 57 Liberal Democrat MPs before and after the general election had pledged to stop the rise. In their manifesto a flagship policy outlined eradicating university fees altogether within three years. Since the report, Business Secretary Vince Cable who had suggested adamantly for a graduate tax has led the U-turn declaring, "In the current economic climate, we accept that the policy is no longer economically feasible."

If this is the path the coalition choose to proceed down, and it seems inevitable, it will be a hostile terrain they will venture, protests from within the Commons and a student campaign through the NUS will await their surgical tentacles of power. The HE future may well be burgeoning to an British equivalent of the American's Ivy League status which is chasm in the innate fairness which lead the 1945 Labour government to introduce the welfare state.

Epictetus the famous Greek philosopher wrote, "Only the educated are free", now future generations of graduates are to be saddled slaves to debt.

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