Free education would be a complete disaster
We’re much better off gritting our teeth and paying the 9k
Before 1998, going to university cost you nothing. Since then, we’ve witnessed the introduction and rise of tuition fees. As I’m sure you’re aware, a good degree will now cost you £9,000 every year (before we even consider maintenance loans) and we’re likely to leave Warwick campus with around £45,000 of debt. These are sobering figures.
Is it not natural, then, to form groups like Warwick for Free Education (WFFE) and protest for higher education to be free for all? Plenty of people thought so, with thousands marching at the national demonstration in London recently.
WFFE believe education is a collective good which benefits the whole of society, and so it should be funded by relatively small tax increases on corporations and the super-rich.
A lot of people will generally agree with them. Education is certainly a force for good, which should benefit all those in society who want to be educated. However, to have top quality universities which research and teach at an outstanding level, take more and more students from deprived backgrounds and are in the business of creating the best-educated generation of working people Britain has ever known, we should pay tuition fees.
Before you dismiss this as Tory drivel or start an online hate campaign against me, hear me out. Free education doesn’t exist. Not even in Scotland, where the students pay nothing. What “free education” means is “free education for us, increased cost for someone else”. That vast cheque, for all the university education in England, would land on the government’s doorstep.
Regardless of tax rises (or, as is more likely, borrowing), the state’s resources are ultimately limited – and it’s already overspending every year to meet public sector demands. Free education would mean either student numbers plummeting, as the state realises it’s totally incapable of sustaining our vast further education intake, or, spending per head would go through the floor.
Don’t believe me? This is what’s happening in Scotland, where they have this magic “free education”. There, the financial state of their universities is so dire they rely on foreign students (who, surprise surprise, still pay tuition fees) to prevent complete collapse. This is a million miles from the English system where without state meddling, universities are shooting up the international rankings. Three of the top ten universities in the world are in England and many of Warwick’s courses are in the top 50 anywhere on the planet.
It goes further, though. The tiny city I’m from, Lincoln, has been practically reinvented around a vibrant, brand-spanking new university which now gives well over 12,000 students the opportunity to get a degree. Do we really think this would have been possible with heavily-culled student numbers and a stemmed flow of investment?
It gets worse. Campaigners claim tuition fees are a barrier to education for the poorest in society. This is, I’m afraid, a blatant lie. In England, at least one third of your £9,000 goes directly to assisting disadvantaged students. What’s more, the government has removed the cap on the number of students universities are allowed to take every year – if you were wondering why there’s freshers living in Tocil this year, that’s why.
As if these measures weren’t enough, in a state-run university system places would be rationed to the top performers – who are overwhelmingly from rich backgrounds, and who went to the best schools in the nation. The poor, state-educated folk wouldn’t even be in with a shout. Far from deterring the poor from choosing university as their next step in life, tuition fees have actively encouraged it and English universities now take 18 per cent of their students from disadvantaged backgrounds, more than double the rate in Scotland.
Free education movements, for all their popularity and demonstrations are barking up the wrong tree. If we want globally renowned hubs of learning, Warwick campus to continue being redeveloped with fantastic new buildings and intend our institutions to act as a motor of social mobility then we need our tuition fees.
Next time you see a member of WFFE outside the library handing out leaflets, challenge them and their preaching for a double-glazing of the glass ceiling for the disadvantaged.