THE BLOG

Explaining the Rise of the World's Highest Tuition Fees

30/11/2015 11:02 GMT | Updated 26/11/2016 10:12 GMT

The Telegraph reported this week that English students "pay the highest tuition fees in the world".

Yes, £9000 is a lot of money and yes, Bristol students could probably be charged less. It is true that textbooks and accommodation, sports and societies, food and drink, add thousands upon thousands to the real cost of higher education. And it doesn't help to have the implausibly limp brother of Boris, Joe Johnson, as higher education minister in the Government.

Cue outrage at our universities charging even more than America's - but there are simple, logical, understandable and punitive reasons for sky-high tuition fees beyond the shrieking headlines of the print press.

Young, wild and no longer free [of debt], Bristol students should sidle up to the grey, Wintery coastlines of discontent, wearing reflective and rueful, but not rageful, expression.

First of all, it is British and American universities charging the highest tuition fees in the world...and look at the university rankings - UK and USA universities lead every ranking and our own university, Bristol, is in the top forty in the world. Really, British fees should be second only to America's, and Bristol's among the highest. Though contact time is shamefully uneven across courses and academics can seem aloof and disconnected from students, perhaps the value of a Bristol degree is worth more than we recognize.

Chuntering in booths at the Berkeley can only get us so far, and we need to consider why our generation has seen fees rise, though.

In 2010, Labour left office, confessing that there was "no money left".

So the Government was left to choose; it could cut funding to senior citizens, faithful taxpayers for fifty years, or to the middle-aged, the bosses and CEOs of modern Britain, or it could cut funding to the young, a hazy and amorphous group that votes in smaller numbers and less predictably than its seniors.

This does not make it right to penalize the young. It does promote inter-generational tensions and it does make our lives harder.

But then, self-interest rules the day. The poor tend to vote Labour because the left promises higher welfare (among social tenants in May's General Election, Labour led 50-18 and among BME voters, 65-23), while rich landowners tend to vote Tory because they protect the well-off (among homeowners, 46-22, and among the highest social class, 'AB', 45-26).

So we cannot blame the Tories for looking out for themselves when voters do the same. Tuition fees are high because vital services for senior citizens such as healthcare and state pensions are triple-locked. Just this week in the Spending Review, £3.8bn was lavished on the NHS for the next year and the biggest real-terms rise in state pensions for 15 years was promised by George Osbourne.

The Conservatives prioritise healthcare and state pensions because older people need these services - and the Tories need older voters on-side. For the Conservatives to cut to the bone services that their most faithful voters need would be electoral suicide.

So the real reason that tuition fees went up is that we, students, have not found clear enough voice. Students cry foul and stamp their feet, but we do not vote en-masse in sufficient numbers to hand the keys to No. 10 to any party.

Until we, as young people and as students, make ourselves indispensable to a party of Government, our needs will continue to be dispensable to those in power.

It is a lamentable situation for us; that Bristol students, British students, have the highest fees in the world does seem punitive. But we should not rise to the Telegraph's bait and curse impotently our tuition fees being the 'highest in the world'.

Instead, we should remember the quality of a Bristol education and remember that the most effective way to safeguard our interests is to get involved with politics at a local level, canvassing and campaigning, balloting and speaking. We can cast our votes carefully, consider the Government's reasons for rising tuition fees, and maybe, we could even ask ourselves if we wouldn't do just the same if we were in David Cameron's shoes.