Why has £1 a day for 40 years caused so much outrage?

Why are concerns about the rise in tuition fees are based on emotional association rather than on reason.

| UPDATED access Coalition educucation ema higher education labour protest tuition fees

So it’s official. The coalition Government has won the vote to increase tuition fees for students to up to £9,000 per year.

For most university students matriculating in 2012, tuition fees will nearly double from £3,290 a year to around £6,000, meaning that – excluding living costs – an average student will be faced with an £18,000 debt upon graduating; a student studying for four years will be tackling a figure closer to £24,000. It’s hardly a surprise the decision has been met with so much outrage.

Many argue that the increase in tuition fees will act as a disincentive to enter university education. While £24,000 is indeed a lot of money, it is less clear how such a debt will be the impediment people propose, especially when we consider that a graduate earning £25,000 a year (above the national average) would need to pay approximately £1 a day over the 40 years (assuming no real wage increases) to cover the rise. Put in these terms, £24,000 is a much easier pill to swallow.

The prospect of mounting up such a large debt carries a heavy emotional association, especially for those who haven’t yet started earning. A conclusion based on these emotional connotations might be understandable, but that doesn’t make it reasonable. The tuition fee rise really should not be allowed to put students off entering higher education.

What is being treated as a massive financial impediment is in fact a series of installments. These will not have a considerable effect on the quality of life of a graduate. If these details were considered more seriously, I think there would be much less opposition and we would not be expecting the decline in admissions from poorer backgrounds so widely feared.

The EMA cuts are an entirely different issue as they directly deprive the means for willing students to enter into education in the first place. Restricting access to education to those from unprivileged backgrounds is at best unfair and at worst morally reprehensible. The rise in tuition fees does not do that. Granted, it provides students with an education at a higher cost but only once they can afford to repay.

The country faces monumental debt, and cuts are being made everywhere. Still, we are not being ripped off; we are merely paying for what we use. We should not overlook the fact that there is a system in place which enables students to obtain a loan regardless of their financial background. Many countries around the globe do not have a similarly workable arrangement. We should be grateful that students only have to pay back these loans once they are capable of doing so.

In a largely ignored detail, new plans abolish the need for students earning under £21,000 to re-pay their loans when previously those earning as little as £15,000 were required to pay off their debts. These are the students who, on a proportionate basis, are the real sufferers. Under the new scheme this burden will be lifted. It is not so outrageous to suggest that in some senses therefore, the new scheme actually eases access to higher education.

Higher graduate earners will have to pay higher rates of interest on their incomes, with those earning above £41,000 paying an extra 3%. This is a practical solution which takes advantage of the fact that the highest earners can afford to pay greater amounts. The reason this is not obtained by a general income tax rise is to keep the raises tied to the benefits received from the service of higher education. Charging those who did not benefit is considered unfair. As remarked by Matthew Parris, it is contentious in itself that those who are not benefiting from the effects of a higher education are subsidising students through tax.

Education is a right, but it is simply not the case that the rise in tuition fees will in any sense restrict students from attaining that right. So let’s put down our flags and banners, work hard at our degrees and be happy that we are getting a decent education that we know we can pay for.