An un-fee-sable proposal: Education Security calls to vary tuition fees



Sub-editor Laila Freeman examines the possible effects of varied tuition fees

Education Secretary, Damien Hinds, has proposed that tuition fees should reflect a degree’s ’value to society', ahead of Theresa May’s university fees review, which began on 19th February.

He has suggested that individual degrees should be priced based on future earnings of graduates and the cost of delivering courses.

higher ranked or more famous universities could become more expensive than lower ranked ones

According to Hinds, future tuition fees should be decided by considering ‘a combination of three things: the cost to put it [the course] on, the benefit to the student and the benefit to our country and our economy’.

This comes several years after arguments back in 2012 - following the sharp increase in tuition fees - by ministers, who claimed that university fees would be varied. As this was not put into practice at the time, the vast majority of current full-time university degrees in England cost £9,250, placing England’s universities amongst the most expensive to attend in the world.

As arts degrees typically have much fewer contact hours than science degrees, do not require expensive lab equipment and, ultimately, often do not provide a clear career path at the end, varying the cost of degrees is likely to mean that many arts and humanities degrees will cost less than science degrees. If science degrees are priced more highly than arts degrees, more people are likely to be deterred from choosing them; at a time when there is already an increasing need for STEM graduates, this will surely contribute to worsening this shortage.

In addition, professions such as medicine and law risk becoming accessible only to students that are able to pay the highest fees for their degrees. If poorer students are forced to opt for cheaper degrees - which, according to this proposal, will be those degrees that are less likely to lead to top paying salaries - then this will severely hinder social mobility and will block intelligent but less financially able students from accessing certain jobs.

Higher education should be about exploring the fields of study that one is most interested in

It is also possible that higher ranked or more famous universities could become more expensive than lower ranked ones. Again, this could translate into poorer students being denied the opportunity to attend certain establishments, including the University of Bristol. This would cause an undeniable barrier to higher education for many students and would massively enforce class based privileges.

Hinds’s proposed criteria to determine university fees is assessed based on subjective ideas about ‘benefit’ and ‘value’. Moreover, the value of academia should not and cannot be measured entirely on future salary prospects and to suggest so is highly problematic. Higher education should be about exploring the fields of study that one is most interested in. All education is of great value and this should not be undermined be degrees being classified as more or less valuable than others.

May’s tuition fees review was included in the Conservative Party election manifesto of last year, due to a growing concern of whether universities are providing value for money, in light of massive student debts. It comes amidst calls from the Labour Party to abolish tuition fees altogether and demands to bring back maintenance grants, neither of which are on the current Conservative agenda. The review is set to run for a year.

Featured image: Unsplash/Philip Veater

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Laila Freeman

Food Editor 2018/19 | Sub Editor 2017/18 | Third Year History Student | Instagram: @lunchingwithlaila