Let’s have per­spec­tive in tu­ition fees de­bate

The Guardian - Journal - - Letters -

Danny Dor­ling is en­ti­tled to crit­i­cise the cur­rent univer­sity fund­ing sys­tem, and I am by no means a fan of the mar­keti­sa­tion agenda. But he gets car­ried away (How to write off stu­dent debt: my mes­sage for Labour, 30 Oc­to­ber). Have fees re­ally turned “ed­u­ca­tion into a cheap and nasty mar­ket­place”? Words and tone re­ally do mat­ter. If Dor­ling has ev­i­dence to back up his as­ser­tions, I hope he has shared it with the Of­fice for Stu­dents and the Com­pe­ti­tion and Mar­kets Au­thor­ity. If he shares it with me I will cer­tainly pass it on.

Sen­sa­tion­alised com­ments are par­tic­u­larly un­help­ful given that uni­ver­si­ties are founded upon in­tel­lec­tual rigour. If Danny Dor­ling – the Hal­ford Mackinder pro­fes­sor of hu­man geog­ra­phy at Ox­ford Univer­sity – does not need to base his con­clu­sions on ev­i­dence, on what grounds can any of us in the univer­sity sec­tor de­fend the im­por­tance of what we do?

The pub­lic have be­come scep­ti­cal of ex­perts. One rea­son is that too many have used the plat­form their po­si­tion gives them to in­dulge their prej­u­dices. By all means crit­i­cise the univer­sity fund­ing sys­tem, but do so with ar­gu­ment and rea­son. Pro­fes­sor Gra­ham Gal­braith

Vice-chan­cel­lor, Univer­sity of Portsmouth

• Danny Dor­ling is right to iden­tify cur­rent stu­dents and re­cent grad­u­ates as big losers fol­low­ing the coali­tion govern­ment’s de­ci­sion to triple univer­sity fees in Eng­land. Politi­cians must deal not just with the fu­ture cost of univer­sity, but also ad­dress the record debt lev­els cre­ated by the 2010 re­forms. Re­search by Lon­don Eco­nomics for the Univer­sity and Col­lege Union found that grad­u­ates will be hit with a “midlife tax cri­sis” be­cause of their mas­sive stu­dent loan debts.

This is just one symp­tom of a great cri­sis in ed­u­ca­tion cre­ated by the govern­ment’s poli­cies. Our higher ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing sys­tem is off-put­ting for the poor­est and those who wish to study part-time. It needs ur­gent surgery, as does fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion, where col­leges cur­rently make do with 21% less real-terms fund­ing than in 2010.

If the UK is to have a fu­ture as a high-skill econ­omy, we need a co­her­ent plan, an in­crease in in­vest­ment and an ac­knowl­edge­ment that ed­u­ca­tion is in­te­gral to our so­ci­ety and econ­omy. Matt Waddup Head of pol­icy and cam­paigns, Univer­sity and Col­lege Union

• Danny Dor­ling’s plan to cap univer­sity fees looks in­ge­nious. But how about the circa 3 mil­lion other stu­dents for whom this does noth­ing, other than ab­sorb a very large amount of pub­lic sub­sidy, a small part of which might oth­er­wise have been avail­able to them? I re­fer to all those study­ing in fur­ther and adult ed­u­ca­tion. They gen­er­ally come from poorer back­grounds. Their cour­ses are of­ten life-chang­ingly ef­fec­tive in equip­ping them with all kinds of skills, per­sonal and vo­ca­tional. And in an age­ing so­ci­ety this sec­tor caters for stu­dents of all ages. Yet pub­lic fund­ing for it has de­clined by 25% in the last few years.

The As­so­ci­a­tion of Col­leges has re­cently been vo­cal in mak­ing the case for col­leges. Some of us have ar­gued in­de­pen­dently for an en­ti­tle­ment that ap­plies equally to stu­dents in higher and fur­ther/adult ed­u­ca­tion. I’m sure Danny Dor­ling agrees. Get­ting prac­ti­cal ac­tion to achieve a proper bal­ance is an­other mat­ter. We await the results of the in­de­pen­dent re­view of post-18 fund­ing, chaired by Philip Au­gar, with in­ter­est.

Pro­fes­sor Tom Schuller

Lon­don

Stu­dent tu­ition fees raise their head yet again, com­plete with the myth of stu­dents suf­fer­ing un­der a huge fi­nan­cial bur­den. This time it is Danny Dor­ling who sets out an in­ge­nious so­lu­tion. Un­for­tu­nately, there is a huge flaw in Dor­ling’s ar­gu­ment be­cause the more the state pro­vides for tu­ition fees, the more help is given to bet­ter-off stu­dents. At the mo­ment, be­cause no stu­dent pays any­thing while at univer­sity and only be­gins to pay at all when earn­ing above £25,000 – and then only a per­cent­age of the sum above that fig­ure – poorer stu­dents pay lit­tle or noth­ing.

Danny Dor­ling talks of “oner­ous pri­vate debts”, but all that is oner­ous is a psy­cho­log­i­cal bur­den, en­gen­dered by con­stant rep­e­ti­tion of mis­in­for­ma­tion for po­lit­i­cal mo­tives. He would be bet­ter off cam­paign­ing against the high rate of in­ter­est at­tached to the loans, re­mind­ing stu­dents that any out­stand­ing amount is writ­ten off af­ter 30 years and that stu­dent loans can­not be taken into ac­count by mort­gage providers. All in all it is a good deal, cer­tainly bet­ter than un­der Labour.

Michael Mead­owcroft

Leeds

It is a sad day when Danny Dor­ling is pre­pared to back Labour’s pro­posal to scrap univer­sity fees and elim­i­nate the ex­ist­ing stu­dent loans. That pro­posal in Labour’s man­i­festo was po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated and has no con­nec­tion with eco­nomic jus­tice and the need to re­duce the high level of in­equal­ity. The present stu­dent loan scheme is not per­fect and can be im­proved, but over­all it is one of the fairest pieces of leg­is­la­tion in­tro­duced in an oth­er­wise bar­ren land­scape over the past 20 years.

There is no bet­ter guar­an­tee of fi­nan­cial and so­cial well­be­ing than the pos­ses­sion of a univer­sity de­gree, and it is right and fair that those who ben­e­fit should pay the costs of pro­vid­ing that ben­e­fit, rather than im­pos­ing the cost through higher taxes or re­duced pub­lic ser­vices for those not so for­tu­nate. The av­er­age univer­sity grad­u­ate has an av­er­age in­come af­ter taxes, na­tional in­sur­ance and stu­dent loan re­pay­ments 50% higher than those who have only com­pleted their GCSEs. The gap is greater when we look at those who have not com­pleted school.

The ref­er­ence to loans of £50,000 is an emo­tional rather than ra­tio­nal way of at­tack­ing the sys­tem. The stu­dent loan scheme ef­fec­tively is a form of grad­u­ate tax, but has ad­van­tages over such a tax. Peter Howard

Hasle­mere, Sur­rey

‘Oner­ous pri­vate debts’? All that is oner­ous is a psy­cho­log­i­cal bur­den, en­gen­dered by rep­e­ti­tion of mis­in­for­ma­tion Michael Mead­owcroft

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