University Tuition Fees

It is no use expecting the universities to sort all this out by going to 18-year-olds and dangling bursaries in front of them, if those 18-year-olds have long since been let down by the educational system, or if they have concluded that university is not for them

If the omens are right, this could be an epoch-making week. Lord Browne, formerly of BP, is finally about to unveil his recommendations on university finance, and I predict the political equivalent of an undersea oil-rig blow-out. He will say that universities should be free to charge more for tuition fees – and there is going to be fury from Left and Right.

From the Right-wing of the middle-class saloon bar, you will hear the frothings of those who have barely recovered from the apoplectic fit they sustained on hearing that the Government was thinking of withdrawing child benefit from higher-rate taxpayers. They will say that we would never have got into this university mess if governments had not recklessly expanded higher education so that we ended up with all these students doing Mickey Mouse courses at Mickey Mouse universities and expecting the taxpayer to pick up most of the bill – even though these so-called Mickey Mouse courses always turn out to be those that are being done by children other than the speaker’s own.

And from the Left, we will presumably be told that the taxpayer should continue to pick up most of the bill for the entire higher-education system – even though it is hardly progressive that people on low incomes should pay in their taxes for the university education of students who will go on to earn about 40 per cent more than those with no qualifications.

In the middle of the saloon bar, the poor Lib Dems will have to cope with the reality that they are historically obliged by their membership of the Coalition to sort out university finances, even though they all signed some sort of vow, in opposition, not to make use of the most obvious and equitable solution – higher fees supported by loans to be repaid by graduates as and when they become able to pay.

It is going to be a bloodbath; and when the political parties have stopped their fuming, they are all going to turn around and point their fingers at a common foe. The universities! If the universities are to be allowed to charge higher fees, then everyone will demand that they do much more to admit students from poorer backgrounds – and so they certainly should. Lord Browne’s recommendations will only fly if it can be clearly demonstrated that the universities will not set fees that would deter lower-income pupils from thinking of a university career. They will have to show how that extra income will go into bursaries and outreach programmes and all manner of measures to improve access to higher education.

So before the whole frenzy begins, and universities are hauled into the dock, I want to utter a faint peep in their defence, and say that widening access is very hard for them to do on their own. They must work with what they are given. There is a reason why the percentage of state school pupils at Oxbridge has declined from 62 per cent in 1969 to its present dismal level of 53 per cent – and no, it is absolutely nothing to do with snooty dons preferring to share their sherry with products of the public-school system. It is because of long-term difficulties in the maintained sector – not least the abolition of the grammar and direct-grant schools.

It is no use expecting the universities to sort all this out by going to 18-year-olds and dangling bursaries in front of them, if those 18-year-olds have long since been let down by the educational system, or if they have concluded that university is not for them. And we cannot expect universities to spend ever more time and money on outreach programmes, sending academics and students around the nation’s schools in search of potential undergraduates to foster, when that is a job that should fundamentally be done by the schools themselves.

That is why the most important voice in the great university debate belongs this week not to Lord Browne or any of the politicians – but to Katharine Birbalsingh, the deputy head of a south London school. She has now become the latest great martyr to what I can only call political correctness. She was sent home from her school after having the effrontery to suggest that Lefty thinking in education was inhibiting discipline, standards and competition. But isn’t she right?

Isn’t she right to point to the central importance of discipline and the authority of teachers in driving up educational standards? She strikes me as being a principled person who has reached the end of her tether, and I welcome the move to reinstate her.

Yet I can also understand the irritation of her fellow teachers who feel attacked – like the universities – when they feel that they must cope with what they are given. That is why we need to go right back to the beginning. Just about the most hopeful thing I have seen in the past few months has been an organisation called Parent Gym, which has started up at a south London primary school. Under the direction of a dynamic head teacher, parents of some of the most difficult or potentially difficult kids are brought together to share their problems.

It was fascinating to see the relief and excitement of these parents, as they discussed how to enforce homework, how to turn off the computer game, how to make them behave. Watching the Parent Gym meeting, I saw how a mother or father’s sense of anxiety and defeat could melt away once they understood that those feelings were common to so many other parents at the school. You could see the parents becoming more confident – and that is the way to make the children more confident.

Indeed, the school’s performance has improved since the scheme was introduced. It would be fantastic if something like Parent Gym could be rolled out across London and Britain. It requires people to help train and motivate the parents, and that means some money from the big cheeses with big cheque books who are an indispensable part of the Big Society. If some of those five- to 11-year-olds are to have any chance of making it to university, that is where we need to start.

11 thoughts on “University Tuition Fees”

  1. Bless you Boris. If I ever need to know that my opinions are sound, all I have to do is check in here and find that you are trumpeting for the opposite position, and I feel comfortable in my choices. What a great service you offer.

  2. Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker as well as stronger…….. Human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man.

    C S Lewis, the Abolition of Man

  3. You know, by and large I think I keep on UK politics pretty well. I mean, when you consider that I am not actually THERE or a UK citizen or anything. I admit I do it mostly out of curiousity and because US politics both bores me and terrifies my by turns.

    And it’s not often that I find myself taken by surprise as I was when this limit on university tuition fees issue came up. Oh, I’m not surprised people feel strongly about it one way or another. I’m surprised that I didn’t realize until now that there WAS a limit on UK university tuition fees.

    I mean – utterly gobsmacked. Really? I find the idea fascinating. And utterly removed from reality as I know it. Does it apply to ALL universities?

    Here, the state university systems – like SUNY (State University of New York) or UT (University of Texas) – have system wide caps so students at SUNY Binghampton & SUNY Westchester pay the same and you don’t get UT Austin and UT Galveston in a price war.

    But private universities? Capped? I – I can’t even imagine. I’d like to imagine it (especially in light of my own alma mater’s pricey reputation). It sounds lovely. And – I think my head is starting to hurt.

  4. A loan is regressive whereas a graduate tax is progressive. Why are you so insistent on the former? Could it be because that way the government don’t have to hold the debt and you get to introduce some sort of marketisation into the university system. Why not just use a pupil premium or some such to ensure students from poorer backgrounds get a chance (I guarantee the universities will be falling over themselves to accommodate the disadvantaged if the money follows them!) A graduate tax can be used to fund it perhaps capped after a time period or monetary amount whichever comes first. Tuition fees are regressive, never mind about students from disadvantaged backgrounds being put off psychologically. A teacher will always be worse off than an investment banker no matter how much you graduate the interest rates.

  5. You know, whenever the subject of university fees in the UK is brought up, one can not help but want to know why the universities in Scotland are free to any citizens of the EU bar English ones.

    And this is the quote from the Glasgow university fees page: “If you are an eligible Scottish student or non-UK EU student, studying full-time at an institution in Scotland, you are entitled to free tuition for the minimum duration of your degree programme. If you are from England, Wales and Northern Ireland fees are payable at the rates set out below.”

    WE know Scotland is only a state of Britain, like Wales and Northern Ireland to Britain. Like California to USA. Scotland can not survive on its own as she does not have enough industries. Hence she is subsidized by Britain via the English taxpayers.

    Anyway, it’s not that I want to go to a university in Scotland for free. I’m not bright enough. I go to the university of life and that’s good enough for me.

    A poem:

    Under sobbing hazy moon light
    Sitting a lonely young woman
    Thinking of her man
    Fighting in Afghanistan

    You still owe me
    One more snuggle in your strong hairy arms
    On our tatty comfy settee
    Watching our fave soaps on the telly
    Devouring our fave pizza of peppi and ham

    You still owe me
    One more walk in the park
    We’ll look for fallen conkers
    Who’ll beat who we wonder?
    A stolen kiss in the dark

    You still owe me
    One more trip to the shops
    Lipsticks and shoes
    A shirt for you too
    Krispy Kreme donuts by our bus stop

    You still owe me
    That ceiling needs painting
    A patio for our summer BBQs
    You’ve got all those skills
    I’m still waiting

    You still owe me
    A bouquet of white roses
    Patter of tiny feet
    Our life will be bliss
    I love you so…

  6. The Sun Monday October 11, 2010:

    Families can now help Britain’s armed forces heroes every time they go to the shops. New company RED LION FOODS is selling a range of goods through supermarkets – and donating the PROFITS to forces charities.

    Products include basics such as milk, bread, meat and fruit juice. Prices range from a 64p coleslaw to £4.49 for a bottle of merlot or sauvignon blanc wine.

    So please look for RED LION FOODS labels in your local supermarkets.

  7. Sorry, one more thing:

    If each British family spends just £1 a week on the range, the forces charities could benefit to the tune of £30million a year.

    Profits will go to charities including the Sun-backed Help for Heroes, as well as the Royal British Legion, the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA), Support Our Soldiers, The Gurkha Welfare Trust and the Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation.

    The RED LION FOODS products are on sale at stores including Tesco, Sainsbury’s and the Co-Op, with Waitrose and Morrisons to follow by the end of the year.

    RED LION FOODS chief Andrew Gidden said: “We are giving every person in the UK the chance to regularly say ‘thank you’ to our armed forces and recognise the sacrifices being made for us.”

    The Co-Op said: “Our forces and veterans need all the support they can get and RED LION FOODS makes that easy. Quality products, competitive prices and profits going to charities – why wouldn’t you support that?”

    So please help. Thank-you!

  8. How can this discussion take place as Scotland manage not to have tuition fees and is funded by the British Govt.

  9. Red Lion Foods is selling a wide range of goods through supermarkets and donating all the profits to forces charities.

    Shops include Sainsbury’s, Co-op, Tesco are selling them right now. Morrisons and Waitrose will be selling them by the end of this year. Suppose each family spend only £1 on Red Lion Foods, the forces charities still could get £30 Million per year from the profits. It’s a very good idea indeed. This is what a food item with a Red Lion Foods label looks like

  10. too many third rate universities attracting fourth rate students acquiring pointless qualifications and aspirations which can never be satisfied

    what is appropriate for most of these people are practical skills mental or physical – to perform a useful function in society.

    our mass education system is broken and that is the real issue. the 3 Rs and a sense of responsibility and self discipline is the least we owe young people so lets do that properly with scholarships for the most able

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