THE BLOG
24/06/2015 12:09 BST | Updated 23/06/2016 06:59 BST

What Are the Costs of a Free University Education?

We are in the midst of a higher education funding crisis. We are all losing out under the £9,000 model - we are, as £9,000 fee payers and so is the government, which has not saved money from this fee, but has lost money, due to the escalating loan default rates.

We are in the midst of a higher education funding crisis. We are all losing out under the £9,000 model - we are, as £9,000 fee payers and so is the government, which has not saved money from this fee, but has lost money, due to the escalating loan default rates.

And it is only going to get worse. The Conservatives in their manifesto announced an uncapped figure on university numbers, which means that more and more students will go to university and the government will have to subsidise more degrees. With more students attending, graduate job prospects will be squeezed further, meaning that the loan default rate will continue to rise and it will be the taxpayers who will be picking up the mess.

Sadly, we are guilty of noticing problems but never providing any solutions.

Yet the opposition to it has been poor. The student body, led by the NUS, demands free education as if it's so easily to be achieved during austere times. The costs, the implications of such a policy have not been considered by such students, thousands of which go on marching to Westminster, which means the government can so easily laugh and rubbish these demands. The total annual cost of free education, with numbers left as they are amounts to £36 billion. When a government is trying to find savings of £90 billion per year, does the student movement honestly believe this is possible? Sadly, we are guilty of noticing problems but never providing any solutions.

But there is a solution. We can have free education. But it comes at a hefty cost, and if students want to win the debate over fees then this is an approach that has to be considered.

The solution to the problem is based on one fundamental assertion:

Too many people are going to university.

It is unaffordable to keep allowing an open door of students to walk into university halls. Costs will not reduce, but will increase and bizarrely the government is okay with this. But let's leave financial costs aside for a second. With this massive number of attendees, this places undue pressure on graduate job prospects. And it tends to be those in the lower ranked universities who tend to lose out to the higher ranked uni students. But there is another concern that affects all students and that is that degrees are becoming undervalued. It is now at the stage where it is extremely difficult to get a 2:2 and go on to get a decent grad job. If it's a third, then game over. This was not the case twenty years ago. And with increasing numbers, it may arrive at the point where a 2:1 will not suffice.

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So first things first: a cap must be placed on university numbers. But even with that cap, the cost of a free education would still be £36 billion.

We need to be much more radical.

And that must involve, culling universities and stripping them all of public money. Essentially privatise them, but no university can survive without public money.

Several days after my second year exams, I calculated these costs whilst still in revision limbo. For UK domicile, undergraduate students, it would require giving the axe to 18 of the bottom universities. (This is obviously based on many assumptions). Institutions such as London Met, Glyndwr University and Anglia Ruskin University would all face the shop. To provide a free education to postgraduate and non-UK students, the cull would stretch even further and would go as far as culling the bottom 40.

But this does have its benefits.

There would be a more meritocratic admissions process, with students not having any financial barriers to go to university. Degrees would increase in value again and of course demand could meet supply for graduate jobs.

A major concern is what do you do with the shortfall- the 18-year olds who would have normally gone but now could no longer do so? A big investment in apprenticeships and further education is a start, but that is a separate, more complex debate altogether.

In Austerity Britain, these are some of the harsh realities that confront the student body. But the NUS and the wider student movement fail to address these implications, then the opposition to £9,000 fees will always be ineffective and this will result in more debt and more unemployment.