Scrapping tuition fees is not a left-wing policy

We’re going there

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Tuition fees are a hot topic for young people in the upcoming election.

A recent Facebook ‘petition’ calling for a reduction in university fees currently has around 15,000 joins.

Labour have promised to reduce tuition fees to £6000 and the Greens say they will remove them completely as well as paying off existing student debt.

#FreeEverything from the Green Party

But there is no justification for this. It makes no sense as a policy from a left-wing party.

The current system of repayment for tuition fees is designed so that only those who can afford to pay have to. I consider it the Lib Dem’s greatest victory over their Tory coalition partners. The Conservatives could claim they increased fees, yet the new repayment method means it raises next to no extra money, simply shifting repayment towards the wealthiest graduates by upping the repayment threshold to £21,000. University education is free, unless you can afford to pay for it.

At least one of them didn’t keep their pledge

The fact is that most students will go on to become the top tier of our society. We will be the ones earning the most money. We don’t need an extra handout from the government. But plenty of people do. Calling for tuition fees to be cut is subsidising wealthy graduates at the expense of people who gravely need extra help.

But there are other arguments made for the removal or reduction of tuition fees. One is that education ought to be free. This is generally argued based on the belief that everyone should be able to access education regardless of wealth. I’ve already addressed this point – fees are tied to how much money you make after graduation.

Another argument is that high tuition fees put off the poorest pupils from applying. Firstly, this hasn’t happened. Applications have risen for the poorest pupils and England has about 35% more disadvantaged students applying than Scotland, where fees are free.

Perhaps instead of complaining about how poorer students will worry about fees, we should spend our time reinforcing the truth – that anyone can afford to pay tuition fees, because you only pay once you can afford it. Which is coincidentally exactly what university outreach tells students – university outreach paid for by the extra money from high tuition fees. About a third of fees above £6000 must be spent on students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds and promoting fair access.

The fact is that the current system makes the most comfortably off in society pay for a system that encourages access to people from all backgrounds. Is this not the ideal way for things to be?

Lend us £9000 will you?

Rather than giving what is essentially a tax break to the rich, why not spend this money somewhere it is more immediately needed? If you want to keep it for young people, improve the maintenance loan system, which still isn’t enough for some people, including those whose families fall just above various cut-off points. Or you could invest it in helping young people get a hold on the housing ladder.

But there are also people that need this money far more than students and graduates. The number of students vastly outnumbers the number of homeless people or people who applied for homelessness assistance. Or some of this money could go to improving the woefully poor prison education services in the UK.

I could go on listing areas that desperately need money but aren’t on the political radar. As students, we should stop asking for more money for ourselves and start using our world-class educations to think about where that money might be better spent. We owe it to those less fortunate to think beyond our own pockets.

Perhaps think before you simply see a big figure like £9000 and assume it’s the big bad Tories out to hurt the poor again (although it’s no surprise people jump to that conclusion).

Believe it or not, sometimes the Conservatives can do good, even if it is for the wrong reasons.