February 27th, 2018
The Prime Minister, in a surprising turn, has this week announced that she will be looking into the costs of a university education in the UK and has indicated that we’re one of the most expensive countries in the world.
Research has concluded that the average student leaves university with debts upwards of £50,000, which has caused deep-rooted resentment amongst young people and especially young voters.
After the relative disaster of the 2017 election, where Theresa May’s Conservatives lost their majority, the Prime Minister seems keen to address young voter’s concerns, and this seems like a logical place to start.
It was something that was in their manifesto last year, and they’re hardly riding high in the polls right now, averaging somewhere in between lagging slightly behind and a straight draw with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour. Now seems like a good time to get the ball rolling, as any decisive action is likely to take a few years to propose, get through parliament and then be implemented.
What will be covered?
According to May, the review will take in all aspects of post-18 education funding. One key area that is provoking debate, as mentioned by Jo Johnson the minister for higher education, is the difference between academic and vocational further education.
Many have publicly said that universities are offering poor value for money for certain degree courses which offer low chances of employment and that they should concentrate more on offering courses which can train students in trades and vocational careers.
This may well come up in the review which seeks to even this out.
What could happen?
Most are expecting the review to recommend either freezing or reducing tuition fees, currently set to a maximum of £9,250 per year over a three year course.
The UK, other than US, is pretty much the most expensive provider of tertiary education anywhere on the planet, and the government seems keen to change that.
One other option could be to scrap tuition fees all together and, instead, introduce a graduate tax, which would be introduced as a replacement. Rather than borrowing a set ‘loan’, students would instead pay extra on their income tax depending on how much they earn.
There is heated debate about whether students would pay this tax for the rest of their working lives or whether there should be a cap for how much they repay. For example, if somebody who has attended university gets a job paying 7 figures as a result of that education, the argument goes that they should pay more back into the system in order to help others.
One other suggestion is that the government forces universities to charge less for courses which offer a lower prospect of highly paid employment. This, however, has drawn criticism as many feel that this would encourage disadvantaged students to apply for cheaper courses at the cost of studying what they’re talented in.
When is it likely to happen?
Not very quickly, in all honesty. The review is set to take a year, and will be reported on early next year, the government will then need to decide on what action to take, put it into legislation and then pass it through parliament before they’re able to actually implement change. It should make for an interesting debate about how we think of paying for education.