Tuition Fees: A Hollow Attempt to Pander to the Student Vote?


One of the current trends in election campaigning has been tuition fees and how parties are planning on reducing them. The reception from the student community has been relatively mixed, with some applauding that cuts have finally been put forward and others arguing that the cuts aren’t going far enough.  Are tuition fees really the biggest problem facing students, namely university students, at the moment?

Though it may be controversial, I would argue in the negative. Of course, as a principle we should not have to pay for education, it’s a right of any individual to further their knowledge and help them cultivate ideas and opinions about the world and themselves. And if you argue that it is free, you can just go on the internet and get an education, that’s fair enough, but you know it’s not the same.

Furthermore, of course it was wrong that tuition fees were even introduced by the Labour government in the first place and then increased by the LIBCON coalition. It was an injustice.

But it has been an injustice that we’ve been able to cope with. The terms of the debt, despite itself being unfair, are in my view fair. You don’t pay anything back until you begin earning over £21,000 p/a, with the annual incurring interest rate currently standing at a reasonable “inflation, plus up to 3%”, and between an income of £21,000 and £50,000 p/a, the yearly repayment rate is an average of 3.7%. Moreover, if you don’t manage to pay it all back after 30 years, then your debt is cancelled. You won’t get that with a mortgage. And according to first-hand accounts, the repayment is barely noticeable when it is withdrawn from your income each month, with the general consensus being that it is the best debt that you’ll ever have.

Grants Not Fees
Grants Not Fees

Clearly, according to the statistics, fees haven’t acted as a deterrent to students from attending university. This is likely because universities have had increased capacity to accept students onto their courses, which in my eyes can only be a good thing.

For the above reasons, I do not believe that tuition fees are the biggest issue facing university students at the moment. From my experience and testimonies from my peers larger issues exist, issues such as the cost of living.

Perhaps, rather than focus on scrapping tuition fees, the various parties should focus on increasing maintenance grants so as to make student life a bit less stressful and less of a grime-fest, and allow students to become even more independent.

Or possibly subsidize bus-travel for students in years 2 and 3? Maybe give more funding to athletic unions so as to make sport more accessible for students on a limited income? The possibilities are endless.

The point is that it shows how superficial party policy is with regards to students. The primary reason that the parties have focused on tuition fees (except for the Tories who have incidentally refused to rule out a further increase) is because of the justified uproar caused by the increases during the last election. But just because students were angry that the government did something doesn’t mean that students don’t have other desires.

What would be more attractive is if the parties approached students as mature adults and proposed a reasoned argument such as: “Although it was wrong to increase fees, it has increased attendance rates, and whilst in principle it should still be a long-term target to reduce and eventually eradicate them, there are issues currently more pressing than fees, which we feel offer a more constructive benefit to students.”

Education for Liberation
Education for Liberation

Students are not such simple beings that we can be swayed by such a hollow policy. In my view, and you may disagree, what’s more important is making the most of your university experience in the short time that you are there. If an increased grant means that some students who were previously forced to work dozens of hours a week could in future be relieved of that necessity then that’s great. If someone who would otherwise be limited socially by a constraining budget is given more freedom to enjoy student life, arguably the best years of your life, then I’m in all in.

Yes, debt isn’t ideal, it’s a slight burden, but as outlined previously and as you probably already know, the repayment plan is more than acceptable. And I don’t know about you but I care more about making the most of time now than worrying about debt that I’ll have to pay for in the future. If that’s a widely shared opinion, then hopefully, sometime soon, politicians will be able to take the time to actually listen to more than two-dimensional needs of the student population.

RIP Education


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First year BSc Politics and International Relations student from Cardiff.

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