Point/counter-point: U.K. tuition hike
Big business ideology behind U.K. tuition increase
There is a lot to be said regarding tuition. What it goes towards and what we get out of it are two issues that are usually considered when talking about the tuition cap. But when something as scary as tripling the cap for domestic students (which recently received a passing vote in the British Parliament) takes place, it makes us focus less on funding and more about the whole point of education.
Students, from high school and university alike, are engaged in prolonged conflict in London. Several students were quoted as saying that this hike would deter them from attending university altogether if not elsewhere. As a student attending Laurier on loans and financial aid from my family, I could not imagine the troubles that would occur if the cap in Ontario were to triple.
Currently, we are already paying the most in Canada. To think that this is an issue of finances would make one incredibly misinformed; this is about education. We want to be educated; we want to learn. Imposing such a massive tuition hike upon students is fundamentally in conflict with the purpose of education, which is not to trade money for a degree, but to bring out the potential in all of us.
The tuition hike in the UK shows us how education is becoming a big business; there is no reasonable explanation for students to be paying so much money to attend a university or college. Bringing quality professors and upgrading technology and space is expensive, but tripling the tuition cap in order to “fill the funding hole” seems incredibly excessive.
Yet, a report from the Adam Smith institute claims that eliminating the cap altogether would have been a better decision, as universities play an integral role in the “knowledge economy” and government interference would impede the growth of this so-called “free market of education.”
When there are universities that allow domestic students free tuition, it is alarming to think that this big business ideology can be acceptable and utilised on a broad scale. With special exception to elite schools such as Oxford and Cambridge, the ability to study in Britain will become dependent on wealth and prestige and not on desire or intellectual ability. Efficiency-based systems turn education into a profit-maximizing ideal; to make universities nothing but factories to churn out capitalists. We might as well privatize education altogether, keeping business competitive and getting top dollar for top services.
If the extra funding were to go into scholarships and bursaries for domestic students, it would still not eliminate the division between financially burdened students and those who can well afford university. The raising of the tuition cap simply makes it easier for rich kids to get into the better schools, rather than eliminating the divide by making the scholarship no longer an absolute necessity, but an afterthought. “Poor kids” will have to work even harder to get into the best schools and even then they may suffer a lifetime’s worth of debt.
The point is that students are worrying about money. We’re worrying about how we’re going to pay for school, for food, for lodging and for trips home instead of focusing on our studies. The British government is trying to play both sides of the economic field: delivering education while maintaining universities as businesses. The tuition cap hike in Britain is a very stark reminder of how much we’re paying for our degree and how that degree isn’t necessarily reflective of an education. It’s reflective of a budget crunch.
Tuition change a reasonable response to tough, long-term economic challenges in Britain
Coming from a university student graduating with a hefty amount of unpaid loans, you would think I would be completely unsupportive of the controversial hike in Britain’s university tuition fees. I have to admit, logical reasoning suggests had I went to school in Britain and was pressured by expensive tuition and school fees, I may have been just as angry as British students. I might have even taken part in the protests tens of thousands of students marched in since the announcement was made.
The decision ensured that the cap on subsidized university fees would jump from $4,800 to $14,000 a year. With such a huge hike, it is reasonable to assume that students would be infuriated. As the last month has showed, infuriated is an understatement. These students have seized upon this news to launch a large wave of protests that have turned frequently into violent riots.
Slogans were chanted aimed at the Liberal Democrats (who had previously vowed to fight the tuition hikes). Bonfires were set and firecrackers and paint bombs were thrown, which brought parts of central London to a standstill. A small group of protesters even attacked a car containing Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, in central London. Individuals wearing black ski masks broke into the headquarters of the Conservative Party, smashing windows and drawing graffiti on a statue of Winston Churchill. One protester — the adopted son of Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, as it so happens — swung from the flag hanging from the Cenotaph (a war memorial).
It’s hard to muster up any sympathy for a mob when the response to a political decision it doesn’t like is violence.
However, the decision to raise the cap is a historical one, especially in a country where at one point students were going to university for free. The truth is the announcement that led to the decision to raise university tuition costs was made in October, when the government had stated they would be cutting public spending by $130 billion by 2015. The initial reaction was disgruntled acceptance as the promise of a new age of austerity seemed to appeal to the mass public, especially those who remembered the penny-pinching times of their youth.
Students, however, don’t remember those times. Post-war rationing, scrimping and hoarding in order to pay for the mortgages on the ridiculously expensive London housing market doesn’t resonate with Britain’s youth. The students are boisterous and loud with the reasons why they don’t want a hike in the tuition cap with no mention of alternatives. The harsh reality is this unwanted move is a painful necessity to deal with a record budget deficit; a budget deficit that would have been saddled with Britain’s youth for generations to come.
The only way Britain can balance its books is to cut government spending, which will lead to the loss of thousands of public sector jobs and hundreds of government programs across the board.
Raising the cap is the only way as seen by British lawmakers to keep universities funded in these tough times.
It is also important to recognize that the plan is also designed to help the poor and to keep their tuition as subsidized as possible with a structured route to pay back debt. Under the plan, students would borrow money from the government to pay tuition (as the current situation dictates).
They will not start repaying the debt until they earn at least $38,000 per year, an increase from the current level of $24,100. Once that happens, students will pay 9 per cent of their income above that level to settle the debt.
I understand that the fear of graduating with debt is daunting. As I entered university, I was considerably surprised at the fees we had to pay to gain a post-secondary education. However, as I will be the one to reap the (intellectual and financial) benefits of such an education, I do find it fair to pay for it myself. I wouldn’t want individuals who never want or will never become students, to have to pay for my advancement with their taxes.
With the realities of the harsh economic times, for the students of Britain, there is not much to do but to throw post-ideological tantrums and to break things in response. It’s a shame university hasn’t taught them how to reason.