Sat. Mar 23rd, 2024

Should tuition fees be scrapped?

By Anize Keers Feb 21, 2024
graduation cap being held up in the air in front of buildingPhoto: Rutmiit/Unsplash

Oh, to be a student before 1998 when attending university was free of charge. Instead, full-time students in England studying a three-year-long course can rack up to £27,750 in tuition fee debt alone. Add on maintenance loans, the latest House of Commons library report found that the forecast average debt for UK students who started a course in 2022/2023 is £45,600. 

So why does this generation face exorbitant tuition fees, and is there a possibility of abolishing them? The idea of scrapping tuition has been raised by Keir Starmer – he listed abolishing it as one of his ten pledges during his 2020 leadership campaign. He has since abandoned that pledge due to the economic climate. It was however, the Labour Party that initially introduced the fees in 1998, in a bid for students to help fund their education and in turn allow for expansion and growth in the sector. 

While it might seem tempting to wish for the banishment of tuition entirely, let’s take a moment to look at the positive impact they have on the student experience. 

  1. Sustainable funding: tuition allows a stable source of income for universities allowing for the continued maintenance and growth of the institution. 
  2. Expansion of access: the fees have allowed the government to expand access to universities, including access to those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. 
  3. Quality assurance: with the addition of such high fees and funding, universities are now held to much a higher standard requiring them to deliver better-quality teaching and services. 

Amidst the debate around their merits, we can scrutinize whether the benefits that tuition fees offer outweigh the great financial burden they place on students. Beyond the debt facing students post-graduation, tuition fees can have other significant drawbacks to students’ choices. The fear of acquiring such high tuition debt can exert an influence on a student’s university and career options, potentially deterring individuals from pursuing higher education altogether. Mature students looking for a career change may also be dissuaded from returning to study and building more debt.  For those who do take the plunge into higher education, the pressure to repay loans may lead to the prioritisation of higher-paying career paths over pursuing their true interests. 

So, while tuition fees may supply universities with stable incomes, the long-term repercussions on students’ financial and career trajectories warrant a critical re-evaluation of their place in our higher education system. Through countries like Germany and Norway, we arguably serve to learn a thing or two from their tuition-free education system, which is made possible through taxes and their country’s strong emphasis on government funding and subsidies.  Studying successful systems like these may provide valuable insights into addressing issues of access and affordability in the UK’s higher education system. 

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