Sunday, 21 November 2010

University tuition fees

I strongly believe that if there is one thing a government should never skimp on, it's education. I support a free education for all, up to and including university.

It is incomprehensible to me how education can be seen as a privilege, a boon, as if it is some sort of luxury item that some children are unfairly allowed to have while others languish without. Clearly, if that even were the case, the best solution would be to make it free to access for all who want it. But apparently it isn't fair that taxpayers should foot the bill for the education of children that are not their own, who will then, with their degrees, earn more than others.

I would argue that it is eminently fair. People with university degrees become our doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers, teachers, journalists, politicians, HR personnel, PA's, museum directors, game designers,... There is not a single taxpayer in the country who will not, at at least one point in their life, enjoy the services of a person with an education. Why should not a small part of their taxes go towards making that education happen?

It also makes no difference whether the average graduate ends up becoming a higher earner in the future than the average taxpayer who paid for them to get their degree. No individual taxpayer is responsible for subsidising the education of any single graduate so it is unfair to compare the wages of specific individuals to highlight the huge 'disparity' in their incomes. Also, the graduate's earnings are situated in the realm of the potential. They might or might not earn more than someone else in the future. This cannot be accurately predicted. What we do know, is that while the average graduate is engaged in study, they are not earning any money at all and therefore by definition poorer than any taxpayer. It seems fair to me that at that point in time, those with money support those with none, as long as they are engaged in such a worthwhile endeavour as a higher education.

Our economy has ever more need of highly skilled employees and ever less use for the unskilled or low-skilled that could be turned out of education at 16 or even 18 years old. Cutting off subsidized education at that point discourages local young people from getting the skills they need to get work. Even if some degrees don't seem immediately useful, just having a large portion of the population highly educated is always good. Highly educated people are statistically healthier (less cost to NHS), less likely to commit crimes (less cost in justice), and more likely to be employed (less cost in benefits). They also earn more and therefore pay more income tax. Which, incidentally, can then be turned into more subsidy for the next generation of students.

Oddly enough, the UK government has recently raised the maximum tuition fee for one year in higher education to £9000. No matter, they say, it can be borrowed and paid back, so it should not stop the poor from participating. In fact, it will only need to be paid back if and when the graduate earns more than £20,000 a year. The interest rates will be favourable too. Except of course if you really earn a lot, because then your interest rates go up and up, well beyond market rates. (This helps to pay for all those whose loans are never repaid.) You can't even pay it back early to avoid paying interest, if you happen to have a windfall. The more you earn, the larger your debt becomes.

The clever ones will, if of a lazy disposition, give the whole thing a miss, because the monetary reward is no enticement. Why study hard for years to go into a demanding job if your take-home pay is just as low as if you hadn't? The clever and eager will take their excellent education and their degrees elsewhere and leave the debt behind. And it's all those clever people you really want to attract to higher education and have in your high-skilled professions.

It seems to me like there is no way you could make higher education less attractive and less accessible if you tried. In the short term, raising tuition fees may reduce government spending, but in the long term we can look forward to a country full of ignorant oafs.


  1. Very very good points.

    Tory policy has always caught me as selfish and short sighted. As you say free/cheap education benefits society, where as low taxes benefit only the rich. In my opinion though in the long term a healthy society also benefits the rich.

  2. I find it a bit strange that most political discussions divide people into rich and poor, or into classes. I wasn't born in Britain and the class system is hard for me to really understand.

    A good politician should be running the country to benefit everybody. That includes the rich. I've got nothing against the rich, I'd love to be one of them :)

    At the moment, I don't feel any political party is taking the long view or thinking about the entirety of society.