Opinion | Tuition fees are still worthwhile


By Joe Andrews, Third Year, Economics

A few questions short of the top prize, and the private island in the Caribbean that she had her sights set on, Bristol University student Mainga Bhima walked away with a cool £64,000 from ITV’s Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

When asked what she would be spending the winnings on however, Bhima announced it would go towards repaying her tuition fees. But what question does this raise about the cost of university tuition and the student loan system?

In truth, student loans are far more like a graduate tax than a loan – especially as the loan is written off 30 years after the first repayment. In our game show context, it is worth pointing out that Bhima is undertaking her second undergraduate degree, and was ineligible for government tuition fee support for a second undergraduate degree.

These circumstances do not align with the vast majority of university students, who on their first undergraduate degree, are entitled to a tuition fee loan. These students may think twice about spending a five figure game show haul on paying off tuition fees, whereas it is completely understandable to see why Bhima has chosen to pay off tuition fees with her winnings.

A reasonable question that could be asked though, is why should a medical student, who is contributing to our NHS throughout their study, be required to self-fund their degree, despite the fact that it is a second degree?

It feels morally wrong that a medical student, putting in so many hours of unpaid placement service to our NHS throughout their years at university should be paying for the privilege, especially when the UK has a shortage of homegrown medical graduates.

The current tuition fees system isn’t broken, and doesn’t need fixing

Commonly perceived as one of the most intense degrees at university, the idea that a medical student could have a part time job on the side to help fund their degree seems farcical – and the fact that some have to seems unfair, and a barrier to success.

Should the government pursue a policy of a reduction in tuition fees where graduates go on to fill a role of which there is a shortage of workers in the country? Few people would argue with tuition fee support in the form of another student loan for students on their second undergraduate degree, who would fill those key jobs where there are shortages.

The counterpoint to a reduction in fees is that industries with a shortage of workers, including STEM degrees, tend to have a higher likelihood of earning above median income upon graduation; thereby being more likely to pay off their loan, and being likely to see a return on their ‘investment’ in higher education. A level playing field, then, seems like the best option.

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Ultimately, the current tuition fees system isn’t broken, and doesn’t need fixing. Students who undertake a degree, although subject to some daunting compound interest, will only pay off the loan in full if they earn enough money, above a minimum threshold over a thirty year period – and most don’t.

Students that do manage to pay off their student loan for tuition fees can be said to have gained a significant return on their ‘investment’ in their education; and those that haven’t gained such a return see their loan written off.

University tuition isn’t generally a barrier to entry for potential students, (in the way that maintenance loans can be); shown by the year-on-year rise of students in higher education this century. With an increase in students starting university in the academic year of 2020, young people clearly still see these fees as a price worth paying.

Featured Image: Epigram / Jack Crockford

Do you think students should receive a tuition fee refund? Let us know!