In his report published yesterday, Lord Browne advised that caps on tuition fees should be scrapped. As a result the cost of higher education courses could rocket from the current upper limit of £3,290 with universities effectively being able to charge whatever they like.
What's more, graduates who start earning above £21,000 will be repaying their loans not at the current 0.
Although there will be no "hard caps" on fees, universities are likely to be kept in check by a certain caveat – any charging more than £6,000 per year will be obliged to repay a proportion to the government to help fund the student loan system. But even if every university in the land sticks to the 6k limit, we're still talking a 45 of students at Oxford University are from working class backgrounds, while universities in Liverpool and Birmingham have numbers in the high 40 percents.
Then there's the question over the students falling in the middle ground. Where I came from, we always assumed that if we wanted to go to university, we would be able to. That will no longer necessarily be true for the middle classes.
The offer of a 0% interest rate for anyone earning under £21,000 is not much of a gift really is it? One would hope that after all that work and money, graduates would expect to soon be earning in the low twenties. Their reward? Getting clobbered with the repayments. Plus interest.
It's not hard to see where it could all lead: fewer students and even more segregation among them, as low income students head straight for the cheapest institutions. Perhaps those who don't give up on the idea of a degree altogether will opt for a different way of learning. A recent BBC article suggested that students in the future will be gaining their degrees, at a much lower cost, online: logging in, studying, emailing essays and dissertations off for remote marking.
But isn't that sad?! University is not only about gaining your qualification. It is a place where lecturers (with faces, not usernames) encourage and inspire, where young people are exposed to others from all walks of life, to music, to art, to varying opinions. It is where teenagers can become young adults among the comfort and safety of their peers and where lifelong friendships are made.
It might not be the last one, but I think Lord Browne has just hammered a massive nail into the coffin of student culture and the university experience as a whole.
By: Pip Jones
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