Banter on the Banter: UK Tuition Fees

Ben Cohen
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A reader writes in response to my post on student tuition in the UK:

I don't think the argument is that straight forward. In a perfect world University education would be free (ie no tuition fees) and the taxpayer would also support students with the old grant system so that students didn't have to run up huge student debts in order to buy essentials and pay the rent. This is the system that used to be in place in the UK and it is true that most of the people making the laws now benefited from this system.However, when this system was in place there was a much lower percentage of the population going to university.

The last UK government introduced a target of 50% of people going into higher education which i think is a good thing. To pay for this they introduced tuition fees that i think ended up being capped at £3000 per year. As far as i remember these fees were meanstested to protect disadvantaged students, but for those who did have to pay they were to be paid upfront every term. So I don't agree that the system was perfect before. If we want more people to get university educated then the money has to come from somewhere. I think the argument realy comes down to who should fund universities. The first argument is that it should be the taxpayer. Many university educated peaple will argue that by going to university they are likely to contricute more in income tax (due to higher salaries) to the government over thier life than someone who didn't go to university and perhaps didn't earn as much money.

The problem i have with this is that it seems extremely unfair to me that the people going into university (the lucky 50% of the population) get 3-4 years of 'some work and quite a lot of drinking, sleeping, socialising, watching t.v., some more drinking etc' while the unlicky 50% are doing jobs that are hard work, probably not very well paid, and having to pay income tax which will be partly funding the people at university. The argument the government is making is that there should be a fixed fee for university education that is paid back once the graduate is earning a certain amount of money. The issue i have with this is that the amount you have to earn at which you start paying the fees back seems pretty low, especailly if you are in London where the cost of living is so high. Also this might stop people from taking courses in the arts that are worth while for the good of society, but may not offer great salaries after graduation (you don't want peaple to have debts hanging over their heads for their whole lives).

The third argument is a graduate tax which i belive means that for say 10 years after graduation the person pays an extra tax on their income to pay for their university education. For me this is the fairest way to fund universities. It means that the more you benefit finacially from university, the more you pay back to fund university. For example the guys in banking earning huge wages after they graduate will pay back a lot more than those who say go into teaching.