Capping It All

JACK NUGENT risks life and limb to defend the abolition of the tuition fees cap.

access loans student loans company tramps tuition fees

Walking around Cambridge, I see a lot more tramps than I ever see in London and, to my surprise; the Cambridge ones are English and white. So partly out of social conscience and partly out of being stunned by this novelty, I bought a few Big Issues. But the novelty quickly shattered like an empty whisky bottle when I saw the tanned guy with the white trainers buying large amounts of alcohol in Sainsbury’s – with my money. The only response could be 'What a cheeky bastard (or BASSSTAD, in Northern-speak).'

I imagine that many people felt like how that tramp made me feel when Oxbridge colleges recently announced again that they want to abolish the cap on student fees. “Tight, cheeky bastards: taking my money just so that they can buy themselves White Lightning / port and Quavers / brie”. We, as the students, look around the beautiful buildings and facilities that belong to colleges and think, 'they don’t really need it.'

But, in my (bound-to-be-very-unpopular) view, fees should not be abolished and the cap should be raised. Before you start shouting words like 'access' and 'inclusivity' at me (which, quite frankly, very few people have a clue about), let me explain my rationale.

At the moment, people studying Super Mario (for instance) at Wolverhampton Polytechnic are paying £3,225. Just like us. The difference is that we have well-funded libraries, one-to-one supervisions and some of the best lecturers in the world. These things don’t come cheap and the massive gap in quality is not reflected in the prices. The problem of the cap is not that it exists but that it hasn’t been staggered nationally. It was simply introduced as the maximum universities could charge and every university now charges that.

A friend of mine was also quite honest about the whole thing. 'My parents paid over £20,000 a year in fees for the last 7 years,' he said, 'three years wouldn’t make much more of a difference.' Although this might make him sound like a bell end, these circumstances have to be considered: there are plenty of people at Cambridge who could afford more than £3,225 a year on fees.

The only draw-back to increasing a cap is what happens at the other end of the spectrum. If Cambridge charges higher fees, then bursaries would also have to increase and cater more for people from low-income households. Unfortunately, those in control of 'access' and the University’s bursary scheme don’t seem to have a clue.

'Yah, yah, we have bursaries and stuff,' is what Access people often spout to school children who might not be able to afford Cambridge fees. But the access teams often don’t know how the 'bursaries and stuff' work.  The payments are made in two instalments to cover three terms (genius); the first comes in January, four months after a student has started their degree (makes sense); and the bursary is reduced if any other charity wants to buy books or food for the student (brilliant).

So the debate of 'increase the cap vs. abolish the cap' isn’t really helpful for sorting out any problems with the current system.  A Cambridge degree is worth its weight in Student Loan and will benefit each of us significantly. Unlike the Big Issue, we actually get something worthwhile when we give our money to our colleges. So, if you have it: 'SHOW THEM THE MONEY' and, if you don’t, hopefully the 'access' crew will get their act together. Otherwise there might be more people begging for money in Cambridge a few years from now: half of them tramps; the other half, college bursars.