The Government Is Reviewing ‘Over-Priced’ University Tuition Fees

It's about bloody time...

The Government Is Reviewing ‘Over-Priced’ University Tuition Fees

by Georgia Aspinall |
Published on

Theresa May is launching an independent review into the price of tuition fees and student finance in a bid to ensure university degrees are better value for money. The review will look into the reintroduction of maintenance grants for disadvantaged students, address increasing interest rates on student loans and look at how higher education can be delivered more flexibly.

With young voters feeling disillusioned with the Tory government and amidst a series of Brexit fuck-ups, the announcement is giving young people some much-needed hope. However, there have been no suggestions from ministers that the review will consider scrapping or radically reducing the fees, which Labour is campaigning for stating they would abolish fees and bring back maintenance grants.

There are also concerns around May and education secretary Damian Hinds' plans to introduce varying fees dependent on subjects. Former Labour education minister, Lord Adonis, stated that charging less for arts and humanities degrees, as is proposed, would be a ‘big backward step’ and stop people from studying science subjects. Not only does it discourage lower-income students from entering STEM fields, which are disproportionally male, it undermines creative degrees and implies they are less valuable for your career.

It also contradicts May’s statement that our view of education is ‘outdated’ and that we should ‘recognise that what’s important is what is right for every young person’. Although she was referring to technical education, there is a certain level of irony in stating that our view of technical education is archaic while perpetuating the ideal that humanities are worth less to students. While they may present more difficulty in following a specific career path, surely if they’re ‘what is right’ for certain young people they shouldn’t be valued less.

Whether or not varied fees will be introduced will be found once the year-long review is up, when we will also find out about the status of maintenance grants, which were scrapped just last year. May’s former education secretary Justine Greening stated in a blog yesterday that maintenance grants should be reintroduced, saying:

‘To remove them was regressive and this mistake should be rectified. Under the current maintenance loan approach, students from lower income families less able to help them with living costs, come out with more debt, like for like, than their better off peers. That’s unfair and cannot be allowed to continue.’

However, when asked about the topic May stated:

‘It’s for the review to come forward with proposals so I’m not going to pre-empt it. Let’s see what they come forward with.’

The review will also present proposals on interest rates on student loans, which currently stand at 6.1% making them higher than most mortgages.

Hinds spoke to Sky News about the issue, saying:

‘The interest rate does serve an important purpose, which is to make the system more progressive, so people who do earn a lot of money in their 20s and 30s will end up contributing proportionately more than people who don’t earn those sums of money after they graduate.’

However, he promised that the panel will ‘look at all these different aspects and then the government review will respond’. If that doesn’t ease your student loan concerns, check out our interview with Martin Lewis about how worried you really should be.

The most promising statement of the announcement was May’s recognition that ‘the level of fees charged do not relate to the cost or quality of the course’, which is possibly the truest thing she has ever said. She is said to warn that the current system has failed to deliver sufficient competition on the price of degrees, with the majority of universities charging the maximum price.

In fact, chair of the Treasury select committee Nicky Morgan has admitted that the expectation of universities to charge different fees to attract students was naïve. It also serves as a reminder that treating education as a capitalist enterprise is not conducive to the best outcome for students and young people - you know, the people responsible for the future of our country.

Hinds has also backed the move towards varying fees, stating that not only does he want ‘more variety’ in the level of fees but also more flexibility in the structure of courses. He is arguing for two-year degrees and ‘commuter degrees’ where students could live at home and work part-time while studying. Making education more flexible would give students more options, an important step considering the varying factors that determine whether to go into higher education, although how universities would respond to these options remains to be seen.

One important focus we would like to see from the review, although it hasn’t been mentioned so far, is the quality of education students are receiving. The fact that universities are able to charge so much for courses that offer at best 16 hours a week of contact hours (according to the Telegraphs breakdown of courses with the highest workload) seems ridiculous. Getting yourself into £50,000 of debt surely allows us to demand more from universities, be it better teaching, help with living costs or more flexibility- hopefully this review will prove that.

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us