University Tuition Fees Could Rise...Again
The Debrief: Could the future of higher education in the UK be even higher tuition fees and a university founded by Facebook? A Government report, published today, announces proposals to shake up the unversity system in the UK.
How much student debt did you graduate with? Do you think you’ll ever pay your student loan back? Do you think your degree was worth it? I think we can all say, for sure, that £9,000 is a lot of money. I’m going to put it out there and say that it’s almost definitely more than most people in their teens and twenties have ever had in their bank account at any one time. And yet, if you went to university after the great tuition fee hike of 2010 this is how much you spent to be there every year, before you’d even so much as picked up a pint.
According to a report from the Sutton Trust, as things stand, students in England leave university with more debt than anywhere else in the English-speaking world. Those paying £9,000 in fees owe an average of £44,000 when their finish their degree, compared with an average of £20,500 for public universities and £29,000 for private universities in America and just £15,000 in Canada.
With this in mind, it’s somewhat concerning that the current cap on fees in this country could be set to rise. As part of a Government White Paper which sets out reforms to universities those which score highly in terms of teaching quality – which the Government thinks are worth it - will be allowed to raise their annual tuition fees beyond the £9,000 threshold from autumn 2017.
The White Paper, titled Success as a Knowledge Economy, follows on from a consultation which was intended to look into concerns that students were being ripped off - over-charged for degrees which weren’t giving them much return – i.e. helping them get a job that meant taking on the debt in the first place was worthwhile. As The Debrief reported last month, even the Government aren’t sure that some degrees are worth the money they cost.
The Government says that these reforms are meant to ensure that students get ‘better value for money’ and will make it easier for new universities to open. However, Labour’s Shadow Universities Minister, Gordon Marsden, warned of the potential for ‘inadequate’ controls and ‘rapid expansion’.
Other proposed changes include plans to force universities to publish information about exactly how much time students spend in classes and lectures, as well as the average earnings of their graduates. It is also being announced that high education will be opened up to great competition, by allowing new private colleges to award degrees if they meet the Government’s standards. In theory, this means that private companies like Facebook and Apple, could open their own degree-providing institutions for anyone to attend, at a price, of course.
The White Paper also proposes that a watchdog should be founded, this will be called the Office for Students and will ensure that the consumer rights of students are being protected.
Sorana Vieru, Vice President of the National Union of Students, told the BBC students would be ‘outraged’ at the prospect of tuition fees being increased, but welcomed the recognition of the ‘need for progress on access and widening participations’.
Dame Julia Goodfellow, president of Universities UK, warned of the need to protect quality among new institutions: ‘It is important also that any new higher education providers awarding their own degrees or calling themselves 'university' meet these same, high standards.’ Sally Hunt, leader of the UCU lecturers' union, warned of the ‘danger of opening up UK higher education to for-profit providers’.
While the proposals of founding a watchdog to protect the rights of students along with a requirement for greater transparency from institutions are undeniably positive steps, the fact that this White Paper has come about because some universities have been charging over the odds for degrees since the 2010 hike in fees which the Government doesn’t deem to be worth it surely raises questions about any further marketisation of high education? Indeed, surely there are questions to be asked about allowing fees to increase, yet again, when many graduates won’t ever pay back the debt they have under the current system.
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