Features Editor, Dominic Barrett, discusses the love-hate relationship with university tuition fees.
Ask any current university student if they’re looking forward to the prospect of leaving university with a veritable mountain of debt and you’d probably find out pretty quickly just how much they are not looking forward to facing it. That’s not that surprising, but maybe there is another way to look at university fees that might make you feel a little better about them.
If you take a quick look at the Labour Manifesto for 2017, a point that might stick out to you is where it specifies that tuition fees for universities should be abolished. That’s great, and would avoid the scenario of leaving university with a whole load of debt. Obviously, this is good news – no disagreement from this struggling student – but maybe it’s not as simple as just scrapping fees.
It might help to know why university fees were implemented in the first place. In the 1960s, it was decided that more students should be in universities because, at the time, it was only a tiny proportion of people that actually went into higher education. This led to a massive campaign to get students interested in attending university, and thus a huge boom in student numbers. However, by 1998, the Labour government realised that they couldn’t afford to send all these people to university without a little money coming back. And since then, fees have gone up and up to be capped at the £9000 we pay today.
So, the question is, are there are any benefits to student fees for the students themselves? This might seem like a counter-intuitive argument – how could it be beneficial to force those that lack personal financial independence to pay for their education? Well, there are, shockingly, certain arguments that could be made that would contend this very point. Making fees for universities higher means that, naturally, less people can afford to go. While initially this can only be bad, it does mean that the degrees themselves have more value for employers because not everyone has one. This seems unfair, why is that those who have more money should have the advantage? However, if university fees were abolished, then everyone could go to university and so degrees themselves would be common and thus have less value. Fees also help to distinguish between the people who really want to go to university, and those that think ‘well it’s free, and it’ll keep me busy for three years’. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like people should go to university because they really want their degree – not because they don’t know what to do with their life.
Coming out with a mountain of debt after three years is not fun. I’m not looking forward to it, you’re not looking forward to it, and everyone entering the university system is most likely dreading the very thought. But, as with most arguments, the actual answer to this problem isn’t black and white. Maybe it’s time we start discussing a wider range of options to tackle this issue, instead of just sticking to our guns that university fees are pure evil incarnate.