I have never been a fan of tuition fees. I argued against them when I worked in government and I remain unpersuaded. My opposition is hardly surprising I suppose. I come from a family of modest means, I have been raised to abhor debt and pay my way. The prospect of paying large tuition fees after I graduated would have certainly stopped my going to LSE at the age of 18. It would have made a difference. I probably wouldn’t have worked in the third and public sectors and probably would have stayed in banking (a dark period in my career).
I am realist and understand that no government now is going to abolish tuition fees. But the Con-Dems should think again about this latest foray into high education funding. Raising fees will make a difference. We already know that children from poorer backgrounds are less likely to take on high levels of debt – this is one of the reasons why youngsters in affluent areas are five times more likely to go to university than their counterparts in the poorest areas – it’s not just about the quality of education and aspiration. I don’t buy the “a degree increases your earning potential” argument. I am no economist (in spite of having a degree from LSE) but surely graduates can only command higher salaries when there are fewer of them? With more and more people graduating won’t their market value decline? Graduate unemployment is currently running at 8.9 per cent – the highest it has been for 17 years. What does that say something about earning potential? And should we be placing such a great emphasis on graduates getting high paid jobs? Don’t we need graduates to want to become teachers, health care professionals, tax inspectors and social workers and all those other occupations where the prospect of making vast amounts of readies is very low?
Yes, we need to increase access to higher education, but these measures aren’t going to encourage members of underrepresented groups to fill in a UCAS form.