Skip to main content

For Labour to abolish university tuition fees it needs to find the funding.

Funding for higher education has become an issue in Labour's leadership election.  Most Labour party members I talk to would like to abolish university tuition fees.

Up to the 2012/13 academic year, higher education institutions in England could charge a maximum annual fee of £3,375. This changed in 2012/13 when the cap was increased to £9,000. The vast majority of universities and courses charge the £9,000 maximum.

Now the cap has been increased to £9,000 there is some evidence that it is deterring potential students from poorer backgrounds, or at the least it is affecting the decisions poorer students make. This was always the concern.  

But, whilst there is evidence that fees may affect decisions, the doomsday predictions of a massive decline in students from poorer backgrounds has not materialised. There are now more young learners entering higher education from lower socio-economic groups than at any time before. This number continued to increase even when the cap was lifted to £9,000. But as UCAS point out 'it is likely that application rates remain a little below what they would have been if higher fees had not been introduced.’

The bottom line is that if we abolish fees altogether then we need to find funding for the universities, and that would need to come from tax revenue.  Labour should at least consider whether fees should still be a component of funding. We can't just have a wish list of state funding without knowing the costs and how they would be met.  We should at least consider whether there is a sweet level of fees that would help raise revenue without being a deterrent to poorer students entering higher education.

The expansion of universities and the numbers of students put a considerable strain on universities. There has been a huge expansion of student numbers. This is good, particularly if it is broadening access and opportunities. But it needs funding. 

Funding from fees now makes up a substantial amount (47%) of university funding. The government has systematically reduced the amount of direct funding for universities in England and Wales. One alternative would be a graduate tax, but it is not clear this would raise sufficient revenue to replace the funding from fees, or if it could be imposed fairly. The universities need funding up front, not at some time in the future when graduates start earning sufficient to pay a premium tax rate.

Those who advocate abolishing fees altogether must come up with alternative funding. We could make it a priority to increase direct funding, but it competes with the need to fund the NHS and social care. I have yet to see any real costed alternative. We need to find one.

My approach would be to systematically reduce fees over a period of years, with a gradual replacement with direct funding. It is sensible to consider  a graduate tax as a temporary measure to find such funding in the future, but the devil would be in the detail. It is also sensible to see some level of fees as part of the mix, but at a much lower cap.

If Jeremy Corbyn promises to abolish fees, then he needs to be honest about its cost, and where he will find the funding. The Universities have no faith in government commitment to increase funding. There is also a great deal of anxiety about the loss of revenue from EU students post Brexit. None of this is easy. Don't believe anyone who claims it is.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The lion and the wildebeest

Birds flock, fish school, bees swarm, but social being is more than simply sticking together.  Social groups enable specialisation and a sharing of abilities, and enhances ability, learning and creating new tricks. The more a group works together, the more effective they become as a team.  Chimpanzees learn from each other how to use stones to crack nuts, or sticks to get termites.  All around us we see cooperation and learning in nature.  Nature is inherently creative.  Pulling together becomes a rallying cry during a crisis.  We have heard it throughout the coronavirus pandemic.  "We are all in this together", a mantra that encourages people to adopt a common strategy. In an era of 'self-interest' and 'survival of the fittest,'  and 'selfish gene', we lose sight of the obvious conclusion from the evidence all around us.   Sticking together is more often the better approach.  This is valid for the lion as it is also for the wildebeest.   We don't

Noise pollution puts nature at risk

 "I just want a bit of peace and quiet!" Let's get away from all the hustle and bustle; the sound of endless traffic on the roads, of the trains on the railway, and the planes in the sky; the incessant drone; the noise. We live in a world of man-made noise; screeching, bellowing, on-and-on in an unmelodious cacophony.  This constant background noise has now become a significant health hazard.   With average background levels of 60 decibels, those who live in cities are often exposed to noise over 85 decibels, enough to cause significant hearing loss over time.  It causes stress, high blood pressure, headache and loss of sleep and poor health and well-being.   In nature, noise has content and significance.  From the roar of the lion, the laughing of a hyena,  communication is essential for life; as the warning of danger, for bonding as a group or a pair, finding a mate, or for establishing a position in a hierarchy - chattering works.  Staying in touch is vital to working

Therapeutic animal stress

Interacting with animals is known to be therapeutic,  particularly in reducing stress.  But do we consider sufficiently the effects this may have on the animals involved?   We might assume that because it is calming for us, then it must be so for the therapeutic animals, but is this so?  New research suggests that it isn't always without stress for the animals involved.  Positive human-animal interaction relates to changes in physiological variables both in humans and other animals, including a reduction of subjective psychological stress (fear, anxiety) and an increase of oxytocin levels in the brain.  It also reduces the 'stress' hormone, cortisol. Indeed, these biological responses have measurable clinical benefits.  Oxytocin has long been implicated in maternal bonding, sexual behaviour and social affiliation behaviours and in promoting a sense of well-being .  So far, so good.  We humans often turn to animals for stress relief, companionship, and even therapy.  We kno