Earlier this month saw Bath win bragging rights over all other universities in the country as a Times Higher Education survey found that Bath offered the “best student experience”. According to the survey, this was largely due to our “highly quality facilities”, “good industry connections” and “community atmosphere”. Indeed, whilst this clearly shows that Bath are heading in the right direction, it still does not get rid of the fact that many students still remain as frustrated as ever with the excessive tuition fees.
Since the 1960s, universities have been expanding their student bodies due to the increased demand for skilled workers, but this expansion brought with it a problem that continues to divide political opinion in the 21st century – funding. By 1998, the money being spent on each student dropped to a historic low meaning that an urgent solution to the funding problem was needed. The Labour government, under Tony Blair therefore introduced a tuition fee of £1,000 per undergraduate per year, so that the government could split the ever-rising cost of higher education with students themselves.
As student numbers have increased, so have tuition fees until they were historically tripled in 2012 from £3,000 to £9,000. Nick Clegg’s infamous failure to deliver on his promise not to increase tuition fees has led many despondent students to believe that excessively high tuition fees are here to stay.
This can be clearly seen with the policies towards tuition fees of the two major parties. Whilst Labour wants to cut tuition fees, the cap will still be around £6,000 per year which is still higher than any other European country by a significant margin. Additionally, this would only be a short-term relief and there would be nothing to stop tuition fees rising again. The Tories, on the other hand, are eager to let tuition fees rise in line with inflation.
The burden of tuition fees, however, should not rest solely on the shoulders of students. Having a degree has become more and more important and £9,000 per year seems like an awful lot of money for something that has become increasingly necessary in the modern day job market.
For some parties, the answer lies in scrapping university fees altogether. UKIP’s manifesto argues for free tuition for those studying STEM subjects only. The Green Party, the SNP and the Alliance Party have all supported this policy in the 2015 manifestos and argue for the abolishment of tuition fees and want to write off any outstanding loans
It is estimated that this would cost the taxpayer almost £12 billion – essentially, the transport budget, or three times what the government spent on unemployment benefits last year. These costs to the taxpayer means that scrapping university fees wins little support amongst the two major parties and so the notion is unlikely to win a majority of support in Parliament.
Another idea has been put forward by the Labour Party. Their plan of a “graduate tax” would of course, take the burden of huge debt away from students and allow for more people from lower income backgrounds to apply for university. In practice, however, this theory if fraught with difficulties and faults.
Those who work abroad after their studies would essentially avoid the tax altogether and would get a free ride. This would also be damaging to the UK economy due to the loss of young, highly-skilled individuals. Furthermore, students leaving university with a high salary would be paying more tax and arguably, be subsidising the cost of university for those students who came out of university with a less well-paid job. Additionally, some prospective students may feel that there is little difference to repaying a low-interest student loan over the course of 30 years, and having to pay a much higher rate of income tax after you graduate.
These faults with the graduate tax means that it is unlikely to ever win a great amount of support amongst politicians in Westminster. Similarly, the lack of support for zero tuition fees amongst the two major parties also means that it is unlikely to ever become a reality. What this means is that high tuition fees are undoubtedly going to be with us for years to come. This means that as students, we must continue to hold our university to account and ensure that they are giving us “the best student experience”