Should tuition fees be abolished? Absolutely not.
The abolition of tuition fees is an undoubtedly flawed policy that is gaining worrying amounts of support. Several countries in the world, including Denmark, Finland and Scotland provide free tuition and in the 2017 Labour Manifesto, Jeremy Corbyn similarly proposed abolishing UK tuition fees. A reduction in tuition fees would relieve some of the financial pressure students face nowadays, but a complete abolishment would be problematic.
Funding this highly expensive policy would divert substantial funds from other areas which arguably should be prioritised, such as the NHS or infrastructure. It is expected to cost £11.2bn a year – more than twice the amount the Labour party planned to spend on the NHS. This seems like a highly inefficient use of government resources.
Dorothy Stapelfeldt, Senator for Science in Hamburg, stated that tuition fees are “socially unjust”. The opposite is true in fact as tuition fees are highly beneficial for the poor. A large proportion of fees are spent on enabling disadvantaged students to attend university. In 2015 UCAS found that university applications in the UK for 18 year olds from disadvantaged areas rose to the highest recorded levels ever suggesting that tuition fees do not in fact prevent disadvantaged people from accessing higher education. This is also apparent in the Scottish education system, where their free domestic tuition has disproportionately benefitted the middle class and consequently worsened the social inequality in Scotland. Scotland has a far worse level of educational inequality than anywhere else in the UK. Moreover, although the Scottish government spends £300m annually on tuition fees and student support, they continue to benefit from fees from English and non-EU students and so cannot claim to have a truly free tuition fee system.
University education should be viewed as an investment in the future. Although the exact future benefits received from university education are unknown, graduates earning under £21,000 a year do not have to pay back their student loan. This policy therefore does not disadvantage those who do not earn a high income as a result of their education. Students are paying for a service to increase their qualifications - if a degree has zero cost, it will not be treated as a valuable service. If tuition was free, students would not be motivated to work hard and learn, and may instead go to university just for “fun”.
A lowering of tuition fees, rather than abolishing, would ensure that the majority of people have access to higher education. A university degree (or equivalent) is now a standard requirement for many jobs, making it increasingly vital for people to be able to access university. Students go into the labour market with a mountain of debt – this simply isn’t desirable or sustainable. The government benefits from a more educated population as they gain a more highly skilled workforce, which could contribute to economic growth and development. Therefore, government subsidies could help lower tuition fees to a more sustainable level.
Perhaps focusing on early education and vocational training would be a more constructive use of government resources than fully providing university education. Many young children’s later education is determined by their primary education – if they believe they are not good enough from a young age, they are far less likely to pursue higher education. Therefore, spending on early education could increase the productivity and career aspirations of the young population. Similarly, spending on vocational training would ensure students a job at the end, not to mention providing the economy with the low skilled jobs we currently have a shortage of.
Overall there is no doubt that some form of tuition fees is a necessary and socially just method to fund higher education. Reducing them may be a beneficial policy for the government, but a complete abolishment would be unjustifiable and a significant waste of government resources.