Tuition Fees: An Unreasonable Burden or Inescapable Necessity?

Justifiably discontented students threatened by financial loss, and a government that risks losing the vital support of a substantial proportion of the electorate, this is a dispiriting situation in which there is no winner.

Credit: New York Daily News

Few issues- excess alcohol consumption and essay deadlines notwithstanding- pervade the life of a student more so than the gradual increase of tuition fees. Indeed, the recent protests of ten-thousand young students in London is microcosmic of the growing widespread discontent of young people at the face of rising tuition fees and recent Conservative plans to abolish maintenance grants. "I think it's disgusting, it's really putting off people that aren't privileged" asserts Ella, a protestor in London. "It would be quite nice to pay less fees, and to have less barriers for disadvantaged backgrounds" ardently claims Bradley amidst the pouring rain, who too attended the November demonstrations. "The Tories are evil" simply said another- the almost inevitable simplification of anger that seemingly encapsulates the views of the majority of opportunistic student protestors. It is all too easy, however, to myopically disfavour something that appears unattractive to only oneself; wider issues such as the macroeconomy of the United Kingdom and infrastructure of universities are essential to take into account in order to establish the true implications of tuition fees, and to accurately judge whether £9000 a year is extortionate or comprehensible.

The most commonly cited qualm of tuition fee adversaries is the prospect of working-class students being 'barricaded out' of the University application process. Though the substantial hike in fees may prove discouraging, statistics present an optimistically alternative scenario- 2014 saw a 10% increase in the numbers of those from the poorest background being accepted into university. Indeed, UCAS figures show that the poorest young people are now over 10% more likely to go to university than they were last year and a third more likely than five years ago.

The outrage concerning the scrapping of maintenance grants is an understandable one- it is after all only natural to feel resentment at having something conducive stripped away from us. Though it is essential to view this governmental decision through a wider context. Footing a £1.56 trillion national debt, drastic actions such as the abolition of grants is borne out of necessity rather than malignity directed to the less fortunate. Further, the official estimate that only around half of all loans get paid back by students only puts more strain on the UK economy- running a net loss at present and faced with only mounting debt, the increase in tuition fees is little more than a necessary evil in combatting national debt.

£9,000 is however no small amount of money, and with recent government announcements to increase the price even further, legitimizing its value proves challenging. Indeed, with some humanities subjects totalling little more than five or six contact hours a week, justifying such a vast amount of money is difficult- aptly summarised by one friend, it does seem as though we're paying £9,000 a year for a library membership. When compared to the free education systems of Sweden and Germany, paying such a high price is undeniably hard to swallow. In the face of globalization and increased competition however, British universities require continued investment in order to remain at the vanguard of international education; increased funding doubtlessly indispensable in British universities' impressive developments and rise up the university world rankings, in which fourteen universities now feature. Despite the necessity of financial backing and university expansion, perhaps the government can create a solution to bypass the financial strain imposed upon British families- adopting the German model, wherein the state invests a substantially higher level of Gross Domestic Product into the university system, is a compromise well worth considering in order to reconcile the faith of the public.

The government finds itself in a precarious situation. Paired with the spiralling cost of tuition fees, the removal of the maintenance grant will doubtlessly make the lives of thousands of young people harder, and constraint their ability to relate to the adage that university is the 'best three years of your life'. Despite our inherent subjectivity and emotions, however, politics is a discipline wherein two perspectives must be taken into account. Confronted with mounting national debt and the prospect of half of all tuition fees failing to be re-payed, the government has little room for manoeuvre and views the steps taken as necessary in progressively reducing debt. Justifiably discontented students threatened by financial loss, and a government that risks losing the vital support of a substantial proportion of the electorate, this is a dispiriting situation in which there is no winner.


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