Archive for the ‘Tuition Fees Increase’ Category

Attack on Aspiration?

Mercredi, décembre 29th, 2010

Bagehot writing in The Economist magazine of the 18th of December, finds it a shocking failure for a Conservative-led government that, in too many families, its plans for increased tuition fees are seen as an attack on aspiration. The government is said to have been too much on the defensive in the tuition fees debate and should have turned the argument around more and better presented its case that e.g. students will also be more empowered to shop around for the best value for their degree courses. This approach could then link increased tuition fees together with more decentralisation and power to local government, a volunteer-based Big Society and the more autonomous Free Schools, within a single, radical and Conservative concept aimed at limiting what should be expected from the State.
The opportunity is there to win such an argument if one considers the results of an opinion poll by ComRes, taken just after the first student protests in November. Although 70% of the public agreed that higher fees will deter poorer young people from applying to university, the same poll found that 64% of the public agreed that students should share the burden of public sector spending cuts.
Some Conservatives believe that higher tuition fees will empower students because the resulting higher, upfront loans, repayable only after the recipients are earning above a certain level, will in practice encourage students to seek out those courses seeming to offer the best value for money in getting a degree. Such competition for students will in turn force colleges to improve their teaching and offer innovations such as shorter, more intensive courses, courses more tailored to meet the needs of prospective employers, thereby making degrees more accessible not less.
As it is, the Independent School sector is already preparing itself for the impact of increased university tuition fees, which could force middle-income parents to think twice about private education in order to save for the university stage of education. There is concern about competition from top state and grammar schools when children could be withdrawn from private school e.g. at the 6th form stage to cut costs before a degree course. The Education secretary is also planning to allow high-achieving comprehensive and grammar schools to expand, which will in turn create more places for those who might otherwise have gone for private education. Although the independent sector is responding e.g. by freezing school fees for next year, there is concern that Independent Schools will instead become much more the domain of the elite, with middle-income parents hardest hit.
In the case of the poorest would-be university students, Professor Eric Thomas, Vice-Chancellor of Bristol University and the next president of Universities UK, thinks that students from families on the lowest incomes should not pay tuition fees, in order to allow university Vice-Chancellors to charge other students the maximum amount. Therefore, he plans to scrap fees for the poorest students in an effort to widen participation, arguing that applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds do not want to get into debt. Indeed there is evidence from Ivy League universities in the US that the most effective way of increasing social mobility is to excuse those in most need from paying for their own tuition. In the case of Bristol University, the Vice-Chancellor proposes not only waiving tuition fees completely for the poorest students but also covering the cost of maintenance for such students. Professor Thomas also thought it apparent that as higher education was expanded in the past, it would not be possible for the taxpayer to carry all the cost, therefore making it inevitable that fees would have to increase.
The Higher Education White Paper is expected to set out rules governing universities that choose to charge fees above £6000 per year; there will have to be proof that the additional income is being used to increase numbers of students from low-income families.

Tuition Fees Increase

Mardi, décembre 14th, 2010

The violent student demonstrations in London last week protesting against the increase in university tuition fees, appeared to be aimed less at Labour which had commissioned the Lord Browne report on university funding or the Conservatives in the Coalition government which proposed the increases, than at the Liberal Democrats. The problem for the Liberal Democrats is that before the election they had not only promised the many young people who eventually voted for them, to oppose any increase in student fees, but also had even signed a pledge to do so, despite the opposition at the time of their leader Nick Clegg. On the positive side for them, Nick Clegg has shown himself to be a serious politician within the Coalition cabinet by voting for the successful Commons motion to increase tuition fees; however, with Simon Hughes their deputy leader having chosen to abstain and some 50% of their MPs voting against the increase, the Liberal Democrat party has now found itself essentially split three ways by its unfeasible pledge. The party, therefore, is currently rated at only 9% popularity in one opinion poll and, having lost the moral high ground somewhat, finds itself appearing to be no more trustworthy than Labour or the Conservatives, the harsh reality of their participation in a governing Coalition under severe budget constraints.
Despite the vote in favour of increasing tuition fees up to £9000 per year for the most sought after university places, taxpayers including many on relatively low incomes and with no chance of higher education, will still be subsidising these students. The demonstrators should remember, therefore, that to succeed they need not only a just cause but also public support, the latter likely to be at a rather low level after the uncontrolled behaviour of last week and the disruption to ordinary, working taxpayers in the Oxford Street area, blocked by students chanting about their rights and even aggressive towards the heir to the throne and his wife.
Nick Clegg having fielded a lot of the political pressure leading up to the vote, now is the time for the Prime Minister and his government to stand firm in the face of aggressive demonstrations against measures which, although we are told will still favour students from poorer backgrounds, need to be more convincingly communicated. For this segment of the future student population, increased funding for educational support and keeping tuition fees low address only part of the overall problem. Such students can find it difficult to succeed alone with no help or support or motivation from within the family, particularly those families with no previous experience or history of higher education. Schools also cannot do all the work although they can help to foster or not, ambition and aspiration in their pupils to offset somewhat the lack of support at home. There is an additional cultural aspect it seems with e.g. families with Asian origins much more successful in general at getting their children into top universities such as Oxbridge compared with their black or white working-class equivalents, with the secret here said to lie in sheer hard work and application, rather than funding or entitlement.