Tuition fees


             I expect the Coalition will win the vote this afternoon on tuition fees. I have been asked for my thoughts on the policy.

               Dr Cable’s package is not the policy I would have designed myself, but I think it preferable to Labour’s alternative of a graduate tax. A graduate tax would drive more able people away from the UK, leaving those higher paid who stay paying a higher Income Tax rate than the 50% already imposed. It would truly be a tax on knowledge, and would not help the universities or encourage better choices by students in the way the Cable scheme will do.

                   I have pressed for more University independence, and for better access funds and scholarships. I wish to see more scholarships for able students of whatever financial background, as well as access funds for those from lower income families. I will vote for the proposals reluctantly, as I dislike the main alternative more.


  1. lifelogic
    December 9, 2010

    One should not under estimate the amount by which some poorer student will be put off by the financial burden of the loan. Then again a high proportion of university degrees are fairly pointless anyway and making student think about what they are getting for their fees is not bad thing.

    The government could perhaps promote a free Open university type arrangement to run alongside. High quality degrees preferably in subject that are likely to lead to jobs. Run inexpensively on the internet perhaps over 2 years or less. Perhaps competitive scholarship grants at the end to better performers to fund onward study.

    There is no reason why these inexpensive degrees should be any lower in quality if they attract good students. Student perhaps meeting up with tutors for a few days a month. Just reducing the length to 2 years saves a lot and allows an extra year of work income.

    50% income tax NI plus student loan repayments on top is far to high and highly damaging to the country anyway. It would raise more overall at 35% maximum with the 50% rate retained only for over paid state sector or BBC people and their pensions of course.

    1. alan jutson
      December 9, 2010


      Agree completely with a perhaps a revised way of learning, away from University, and only attending perhaps one day a week or so for tutorials.

      I made a similar blog a couple of days ago.

      Open University degrees I think have similar system, means you can stay at home (less expensive) and complete some work at the same time, should you wish to.

      Another alternative are Sandwich type courses, where you get day release from your Employer to complete as I, and many hundreds of thousands did many years ago.

      Whilst I am pleased I do not have to make any decision about further education for my Kids, I do have grandchildren who are growing up fast.

      I do wonder about students who want it all for free. If Students do not want, or are not prepared to invest money in themselves, why do they think the Taxpayer should. THE GOVERNMENT HAS NO MONEY.

  2. David Magauran
    December 9, 2010

    This reduction in the university grant by 80% and consequent student fee arrangement is possibly the only way to close the numerous joke universities offering joke courses that have emerged in the past ten years. However there should be some dispensation for students undertaking courses of economic value to the UK e.g. courses for engineering, medicine and science.

  3. English Pensioner
    December 9, 2010

    Surely the whole problem with University fees is that too many people are going to University and that there are too many so-called Universities. The recent OECD report which shows that Britain came 25th in the list of developed countries for reading ability and even worse at 30th position in Maths, shows why employers now require a degree where in my days they would have simply required a School Leaving Certificate. If pupils left school with standards equivalent to those in Canada, New Zealand or Australia, they would be able to fill jobs which now require one of our modern “degrees”.
    We are effectively taking 3 years more to educate pupils these days – companies which once would have been happy taking on someone with a Bachelor’s degree are now looking for a Master’s. No wonder the costs of education have shot through the roof.
    I made this and a number of other points in my own blog yesterday.

  4. JimF
    December 9, 2010

    But the main alternative is not the only alternative, or the best alternative. It is the main Libdem alternative, and that counts for 8% of the vote. So 8% of the vote is wagging 92% of the dog. Not acceptable.

    The real alternative is a total overhaul of the HE system as many of your bloggers have commented, to train people in an economic and practical way with Government money for the real jobs available, not with wannabe academics training people for wannabe jobs, which won’t actually materialise.

    Education is one of the few areas which justify some considerable measure of Government expense, unlike excessive foreign aid, loans to banks, freeby NHS services where folk don’t bother to turn up for their appointments. How can we justify a totally free NHS to all comers, but pushing young folk into enormous debt for a decent education? How can you justify paying housing benefits at £400 a week as a grant but making hard-working students repay an enormous loan?

    I don’t think this Libdem-inspired fudge and patch-up will stand the test of time.

    Reply: The graduate tax is the alternative as far as Parliament is concerned, as Labour seems to favour it as well.

    1. norman
      December 9, 2010

      Completely agree with this post. Why does it have to be one or the other, either a graduate tax or this system? If you think this system is flawed don’t vote for it and make a case behind the scenes for what think would work.

      From your remarks I can only draw the conclusion that if this measure is not implented as is, with an unspecified of MP’s voting reluctantly for it, then the Conservatives will put forward a graduate tax Bill, that they have already said they do not want, as this is what Labour favour?

      We know that Cameron failed to win the election (lost, if you prefer) but does that mean that any policies the Conservatives fail to implement then default to the Labour position?


      Reply: Politics depends on winning a majority for your view. I can asssure you that the political classes think there are just three options – the Cable scheme, the graduate tax, or higher public spending. All three parties have ruled out the third given the deficit problems.

      1. PayDirt
        December 9, 2010

        To vote for something because it is the lesser evil is very weak, abstain then. I know you sometimes have to play the political game, but bowing to the Party is the hallmark of those Communists of the past. Where are your guts? This burdening of England’s youth with excessive debt will come back to bite the New LibDems, in which I count Mr Cameron. They are a lost cause if this goes through without proper reckoning of Welsh/Scottish differences and real scholarships for decent university places. Until we get a real scholarship scheme working, this is one vote you need to avoid.

      2. JimF
        December 9, 2010

        John, the Political Classes were also by and large in favour of joining the Euro. You didn’t worry about them then. Perhaps you should think outside the box on this one too. The HE system requires far greater reform than just hitting students with a £50K debt and giving them the choice of the devil (no good Uni education) or the deep blue sea of mountainous debt. Like you no doubt I received a LA Grant and free tuition fees. Don’t you have any qualms about pulling the ladder up on this one?

      3. edgeplate
        December 9, 2010

        It seems to me that none of the options of, the Cable scheme, the graduate tax, or higher public spending, solve any problems.

        The problem is the mess bequeathed by Labour with its the peculiar obsession with degrees of any sort, at any cost and whether or not they are the slightest bit of use, sold on the fantasy of graduate salary differentials remaining the same as they were in the 60s. I saw this as being a vote buying con on the part of Nu Labour. It did nothing to increase social mobility either.

        The whole thing needs a fundamental and painful rethink to restore sanity. Either that or do what the Tories largely seem to have done since the war, which is go along with a mess that Labour have created, tinkering with it slightly, but accepting the mess as institutionalised.

        Abstain, I say is a better alternative than voting for the least bad of two terrible alternatives.

      4. Deborah
        December 10, 2010

        That just goes to confirm – as many posters on here have said – that the polical class is not listening.
        There are options other than just heaping all the debt on the already overburdened youth. It is a question of priorities and this government would rather keep the pensioner vote happy with free bus travel, winter payments for all, etc and keep pouring money into the EU.
        Sustaining their own positions and career prospects seems to be the priority for our “elected representatives” – and to hell with the next generation and the future of the country.

    2. StevenL
      December 9, 2010

      The young are a small demographic with a low voter turnout. They don’t have a big third sector lobby group behind them. They are easy fodder basically.

      The young are being shafted by the political class because they are easy to shaft. However the underlying economy will never support the long term committments the politicans are making to everyone else without a highly skilled workforce.

      The fundamental probem is that land values are too high in the UK to keep lots of unproductive old people here. I reckon they’ll have to be shipped to cheaper countries if they want dinity in old age and the standard of healthcare they deserve.

  5. Andy
    December 9, 2010

    I was sent this link today:

    From this I can see that the Conservative party is STILL not understanding new media and the internet. There is no way for people to respond or discuss on the site the claims being made. I certainly appreciate the ability to leave comments and interact on this site, so I will leave my comments on this misguided campaign here:

    Myth 1: I don’t have £9000 so I can’t go to uni.
    Where did the £9000 figure come from, as far as I am concerned, this figure should be the total cost of a 3 year degree, up to £27000 + Living costs (Say another £18000), a total of £45000

    Myth 3: I would be better off under the old system.
    This is not a myth, it is clearly a fact, why pretend otherwise? Having a debt of £9000 is clearly being better off than having a debt of £27000, regardless of the amount you repay each month. This argument smacks of the worst kind of loan shark, “It’s OK to borrow a large amount because the repayments are small”.

    Myth 5: Tuition fees aren’t fair
    The response is that you earn more as a graduate, so you should contribute more. Sorry, but if you earn more, you pay more tax, so you are already contributing more.

    I am not against the policy of saddling future students with £45,000 of debt, but I don’t think publishing obvious misleading propaganda helps.

    I have one child, who may one day want to go to university. This really is putting me off having more children, as I could support one child through university allowing her to emerge debt free, but not 2 or 3 children. What parent wants their kids to start life £45000 in debt?

    1. Mark
      December 9, 2010

      I calculate that in order to pay off a £45,000 student loan within 30 years you need to earn about the same as an MP for the duration. Because of the premium real interest rate you will pay (RPI+3%), you will actually pay off around twice what you borrowed. Now if someone said that your university education – if you are successful – will cost £90,000, but you only can expect to make £100,000 career earning premium – what would you do?

      Let us aso remember that with 40% tax, 1% NI and 9% loan we are already at 50% tax rate on incomes of around £43,000. The incentive for successful graduates to emigrate is becoming overwhelming. The disincentives for mickey mouse degrees is that the taxpayer will pay for them – not the student. Do taxpayers decide which courses are offered, or is it lecturers who earn an income from offering students the chance to drop out for three years?

    2. lifelogic
      December 9, 2010

      Exactly as my reactions to the second rate propaganda you highlight and very well put.

      But don’t worry just have some more children – they will be fine whether they go to university or not. Do not put it off just for money you will probably regret it and cannot go back. Anyway technology is making us all richer in the long term and bright children are a great investment for the future and a great pleasure too.

    3. Deborah
      December 10, 2010

      I am against the policy of saddling future students with £45,000 of debt, but apart from that agree with all you say. Particularly with respect to pretending that, because the repayments are small, a huge debt – which is gathering interest all the time – doen’t matter. The cynicism of this govt is breathtaking.
      I finally got a glimpse of the real purpose via David Willetts on Newsnight last night.
      Trying to deny that state funding was being removed and placed onto students, his eyes lit up as he talked about the cash following the student. Disregarding the fact that this cash is in the form of a debt that will stay with the student for a very long time, he seems to see this an ideological leap, allowing the funding for further education to “follow the student” . School vouchers for undergraduates.
      The govt won’t implement it for schools because it is too difficult, instead they will destroy social mobility for the poor and middle classes and make HE the privelege of the rich and a few lucky scholars – all in the interests of ideology.

      1. Wokingham Mum's
        December 10, 2010

        We thought Debt is what got us into this mess, now the Government is actively encouraging the young into dept. Like a business buy and pay latter.

  6. StrongholdBarricades
    December 9, 2010

    The main issue as I see it with the HE reform is that the tax system of this country penalises those people who go to University, and by the Government’s own rhetoric actually gain the higher salaries…which means they already pay more tax. To heap the “fees” on top is simply a double whammy, and really the only way to avoid repayment is to leave the country after having completed the degree. I see it as increasing the brain drain, and this does not help the countries economy.

    Plus this package has the main inequalities still remaining within the system. It is accepted that both Doctors and Dentists do not pay anywhere near the kind of money to pay back their fees, and this is basically being subsidised by the other students. When these doctors and dentists are qualified they can command fairly high salaries whilst being contracted to our NHS services. Where is the quid-pro-quo? and why isn’t the system set up to produce enough doctors and dentists that doesn’t involve taking them from other countries?

    1. StrongholdBarricades
      December 11, 2010

      Did you listen to R4’s “more or less” yesterday? Catch it again on Sunday or on iplayer

      They quote, even under these new guidelines that graduates will still pay more than £45k in tax extra than the average.

      Again my question is why should the government impose a double whammy?

  7. Wokingham Mum's
    December 9, 2010

    Agree with your comments
    Abstain – Force them to come up with a sensible planned policy – Streamline the universities. Cut 3 years to 1 year for some studies. Reduce the number of uni’s and students, Take the bright regardless of class FREE . Re-open polytec’s, Apprenticeships, day release, on job training.
    The Lib/Dems are doomed and Labour are no opposition with Ed. The con’s will walk an election now but will pay big time in 5 years if this indecision and bickering continues. Hurried policies and Government by concession can’t work.
    Even Cable couldn’t decide whether to vote for his own policy – der

  8. Andy
    December 9, 2010

    Simple solution: just privatise Universities. If you want to go to one you pay for it. No longer a burden on the taxpayer. End of story.

    1. Bazman
      December 9, 2010

      “Scum like me in a hotel like this.” To quote that prince of gutter philosophers Rab C Nesbitt.

    2. StevenL
      December 9, 2010

      These are the taxpayers of the future you are talking about that are going to be expected service the baby-boomer pensions and healthcare timebomb.

      Nah, you’re right, what do we need taxpayers for when Mervyn can just print as much money as we all need?

  9. Jonathan Woolf
    December 9, 2010

    Although Michael Gove seems to have lost his way on this as far as free schools are concerned (which will not be successful, because there will never be enough, until for-profit operators are allowed to open them as well, as happens in Sweden), isn’t the same logic perfect for universities? In other words, what universities need is freedom from the deathly embrace of state dependency and control. Give every university, perhaps starting with the Russell group, the option to take a one-off lump sum endowment, followed by full independence (to set fees, choose courses, and run admissions etc.) with no further state funding for non-research. Couple that with scholarships for the poor but able (just like the old assisted places scheme) to study proper subjects at those independent universities, and some form of subsidized loans for the rest, and the market will take care of mickey mouse degrees, mickey mouse institutions, and university under-funding. And one of Britain’s few market-leading industries, education, will be free to really blossom, export, and expand overseas.

    Funding the endowments would add to the state’s short-term debt requirements, but would reduce its longer-term liabilities, and would be positive for jobs and economic growth.

  10. Mark
    December 9, 2010

    Perhaps someone ought to do a poll of the general public to see what they think. I suspect an overwhelming majority recognise that our education system has been dumbed down at every level. Most of them would recognise too that there are too many university places. As taxpayers, we have been wasting funds on those who will never repay the cost of their education – and the new policy will perpetrate that and formalise it. Our education costs are high because we now spend extra years to achieve standards that were reached earlier by older population cohorts. The OECD has shown that grade inflation is very real, with the dramatic decline in our comparative position internationally.

    The very best that could be said of this policy is that it has a Machiavellian design – a hope that enough students will be deterred by the fees to result in a slashing of student numbers. However, the incentives it provides for the able to emigrate and the less able to foist their costs on taxpayers simply risk that the whole edifice collapses. Education needs to be rationed by ability – not by “Is it cos I is poor?” or being rich enough not to care.

    We consider a 50% tax rate on those earning £150,000 to be excessive, driving people abroad. Imagine what a 50% tax rate will do to those earning £43,000.

    The best thing would be for the policy to be voted down, and for Willetts to be forced to go back to the drawing board – or better still replaced by someone who is prepared to tackle the issues. David Davis seems to understand the issues rather better than Two Brains – I’m not sure where either brain was left.

    1. Mark
      December 10, 2010

      Is this comment so controversial?

  11. J M
    December 9, 2010

    Can anyone tell me why Welsh and Scottish MPs will be voting on this proposal?

    1. Wokingham Mum's
      December 10, 2010

      Good point
      Why can they go to an English uni’s paid by the tax payer when the English child is depted up to their neck?

  12. a-tracy
    December 9, 2010

    Will a teenager know before they sign up for a course the total cost of the tuition fees in advance for the duration of that course? If a course starts in 2012 I would want to know the total cost of a Masters is £36,000 (£9,000 pa maximum for the 4 years).

    Will the interest rate for the repayment of the tuition fee be set in advance of starting the course so that the teenager knows how the loan will grow if they only secure a low paid job at first?

    1. BobE
      December 10, 2010

      It will be the inflation rate. So at the moment the debt will grow at 3.5% per year.

  13. Robert K
    December 9, 2010

    There’s nothing wrong with charging tuition fees for access to university. If students pay for their courses they are likely to be much more selective, which will be good for them and good for universities. As you say, bursaries and scholarships can provide for able students from less well off backgrounds. What is unfair is cutting back on a state-funded service without a commensurate cut in tax.

  14. Simon
    December 9, 2010

    It is a shame that no one is brave enough to admit that (put simply) too many people are accessing higher education. I studied biological sciences in the late 1980s, working hard to get good grades to gain access to a top University, yet coming from a working class background. Some 30 years later, the number entering the system has more than doubled, possibly even tripled, the quality of entrant has gone down and the resourcing has withered. As a result, the system cannot now educate at the necessary levels to ensure that the UK excels. In addition, those people more suited to vocational fields cannot access the excellent training that used to be provided by the polytechnics. What a mess.

  15. Wokingham Mum's
    December 9, 2010

    What the Con/Dems are going to give us and where Government by compromise leads us.
    3 Tier Education systems – England, Scotland and Wales
    Free schools for the better off, Academies for the failing poor, independent schools for the rich and what’s left for the middle class
    University paid by the state for the poor, paid by Mum & Dad for the rich and what’s left for the middle class.
    Abstain – Voting for something because it is the lesser evil or because you dislike the alternative is cowardly. Only Yes men vote as told.
    Politicians should ensure coherent policy and this is not –

  16. Winston's Black Dog
    December 9, 2010

    If we got out of the accursed EU there would be no need to triple tuition fees….

  17. Bazman
    December 9, 2010

    How many students would there by with less unemployment and higher wages? Most of the students should just stop dossing around and get a job anyway as it seems university has little to do with education and intelligence and more to do with establishing contacts with the ultimate aim of joining the Old Boys Club. All evidence points to this.

  18. Iain Gill
    December 9, 2010

    Personally I would give the top 0.001 % of all pupils from each school a full scholarship

    That means if you are in the top 0.001 % of a sink school in a poor area you still have a chance even when your grades are lower than 99% of public school output

    As for the overall money problem, I would cut international “aid”, I would cut free state school places for children of work visa holders, I would cut free NHS for the families of work visa holders, I would cut “aid” to Ireland, and so many obvious low hanging fruit long before I cut university funding

    1. Andy
      December 13, 2010

      From a school with 200 pupils leaving each year with A levels you would give a total of 0.2 pupils a full scholarship? With the ability to make great suggestions like that you could qualify to make up policy on the back of fag packets just like the government seems to.

  19. BobE
    December 10, 2010

    Because of the lies told by the Lib Dems they loose the student vote and will disapear at forthcoming elections. We will become a two party system. If the student vote swings to Labour then Ed is almost certain to win the next election.
    I am suprised that the coalotion does not realise that they have already lost the next election.

    1. Wokingham Mum's
      December 10, 2010

      Without even having to campaign Labour is on course to win the next election the coalition will ensure it. The alternative vote will fail, a two party system will prevail and the next election is within 2 years.

  20. Mike Stallard
    December 10, 2010

    When I went to Cambridge in the 1960s, the County gave me a scholarship. Everyone who went got one. The central government had nothing to do with it.
    The system worked very well indeed: poor people had the Grammar School or a good job after Secondary Modern. Nurses, artists, army officers, teachers, police, engineers and so on had their own colleges. Railwaymen, builders, hairdressers and so on were trained by people who were actually working.
    Everyone got a chance.
    So how did the government take over the responsibility for all this training which they have made such an utter hash of?

    1. alan jutson
      December 12, 2010

      How true your comments are.

      The real problem seemed to get worse when it was decreed by those on high, that 50% of students should go to University, and all of the old Polytechnical establishments called themselves or became qualified as Universities.

      These two simple actions alone, seems to have withdrawn higher education and training from the very many middle of the road students, the ability to progress through their own efforts, and training whilst in a job.

  21. monty99
    December 11, 2010

    John, how on earth cutting teaching grants by 80% and pushing the financing of the gap onto student incomes can be considered a sensible policy by anyone I fail to grasp.

    The demographics show that this generation, far smaller in number than the boomers who imposed it on them, will have lower pensions, lower salaries (thanks to globalisation), lower aspirations for things like housing which much seem totally inaccessible to most, yet will still have to fund in real time the upkeep of their much more numerous parents and grandparents.

    Adding yet another burden to suppress their economic contribution to the real economy just when we need them to be most active seems like the very worst of all possible kinds of short-sightedness – done in a huge rush out of naked political expediency. To say nothing about the disincentive to millions of bright kids above the (very low-set) safety net who would otherwise benefit hugely from a university education. Pulling up the ladder indeed.

    I fear this error is of poll tax proportions and will haunt the coalition – which in some other ways is doing rather well, Europe as you have pointed out, excepted.

    As far as removing the shortsightedness of that tution cut: The figures I saw suggested that the ENTIRE universities bill is equal to about a quarter of what gets paid in housing benefit. There’s a no brainer for a start.

  22. Conrad Jones (Cheam)
    December 11, 2010

    I beleive the idea that everybody has the “right” to go to University is completely flawed and used purely as a political smoke screen by Labour and Liberal Democrat Politicians.

    They get hot under the collar (well pretend to) when quoting the lower percentages in ethnic groups going to certain Universities.

    When Government ministers start quoting Statistical Percentages and ignore common sense then it’s time to replace those Miniter’s. It always reminds me of Robert McNamara quoting Kill Ratios during the Vietnam War. Although the Statistics “Proved” beyond doubt that the AMricans were winning the War – they never the less, got kicked out in 1975.

    Bring back the old style Polytechnics for Engineering and Practical Professions, get rid of this rediculous University Creation scheme where the local swimming pool can become a University offering Bachelors Degrees in Water Technology. Reduce the Number of University places – and award Grants with Free Tuition.

  23. Conrad Jones (Cheam)
    December 11, 2010

    In addtion to my comment above, If someone comes from a disadvantaged background, then before applying for a degree with no relevant qualifications they should first acquire those qualifications from a College (pay for it themselves if necessary – because I did just that on several Day Release courses), then apply for a Degree. Universities are now run like businesses and are more interested in head counts than admitting properly able students.

    The dumbing down of the A-Level Qualification is self defeating – it was debased and devalued just like the currency.

    An A-Level acquired 25 years ago has appreciated in value compared to the current equivalent.

    Tony Blair’s “Education, Education, Education” drilled into peoples minds that they had the right to an Education where he left out the part which involved how much was it going to cost. Obviously he knew that We were going to pay for sub-standard mass education which would be taught on such a shoestring budget as to make it almost worthless.

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