Early last week, I walked past a poster in the SAF building whose message so incensed me that I felt the time had come to vent my frustration in the therapeutic pages of Felix. The poster screams:
“NATIONAL DEMO - FREE EDUCATION NOW: TAX THE RICH”
Since the General Election of 2010 we have seen tuition fees rise under a coalition government to £9,000 per year. We have heard no end of complaining, by students and politicians alike, about the gross injustice of University tuition fees. Frankly, I am appalled by their clamours, and shocked that anyone has the gall to pretend as if University fees in this country are a “neoliberal assault on education”.
First off, let me start by saying that, in my opinion, tuition fees are completely justified. There is no one forcing you to pursue a higher educational degree, and taking on the financial responsibility is a choice that you make. When you choose to pursue a degree, you are adding significant value to your future earnings, with graduates earning an average of £10,000 more per year than those who do not attend university. If this experience – which costs the University a significant amount to provide – hands you a piece of paper that allows you to command a higher salary for most of your working life, and have a faster and broader career trajectory, why on Earth should it simply be handed out?
University education adds real monetary value to your life, and to therefore pay for a high-quality education seems entirely reasonable. Again, this is a choice that you make – if you want a certain career, or to earn more money, then you can choose to pay for three years of University education to fulfil these plans. To selfishly demand that someone else should hand out whatever you think you deserve, and fund it by “taxation of business and the rich” (a moronically meaningless assertion) is abhorrently self-centred. If you think it is of value to your life, pay for it; if you don’t, then don’t. Make no mistake that education is a privilege. The fact that we are lucky enough in this country to have primary education and secondary education provided for free has apparently numbed selfish students to this fact, and they are so blinded by their inflated parameters of what they deserve that they demand to have it paid for indeterminately.
The calls in this country to abolish university tuition fees have outraged me beyond just the fact that I think they are a perfectly reasonable proposition. The United Kingdom has some of the top universities in the world, and their annual costs in relation to similarly high quality establishments is eye wateringly low. The top four universities in the world – MIT, Stanford, Harvard, and Caltech – all charge in the region of £38,000 per year. Compare that to the next four – Cambridge, Oxford, UCL, and Imperial (I think they must have made a mistake in the ordering of those last two) – which charge £9,250. The standards of learning and research across these institutions is roughly the same, and the career prospects are commensurately exceptional. Yet we pay over four times less for this privilege – and we continue to moan about it? How long will the selfish demands for endlessly free things go unchecked? Think about the privilege you are being afforded, at relatively nominal costs, and consider how justifiable it is to demand that you tax ‘business and the rich’ – those fairytale bogeymen who already disproportionately prop up the NHS and the welfare system - to pay for your career advancement and higher salary.
To top it all off, this ingratitude comes in the face of what must be the most generous student loans system in the world. Not only are our fees incredibly low relative to the quality of education, but everyone, no matter what they study and where, is guaranteed a full loan covering tuition fees by Her Majesty’s Government. Then, we only end up having to start paying these off once we earn over £21,000, and, even once this starts, the repayment is capped at 9% of your salary. This means that you are only paying back the universally-granted loan you have been given once you begin to personally reap the rewards of the education you have been handed. ‘Yes’, you might argue, ‘but what if your earnings don’t increase? Then the education has done nothing for you!’.
This may unfortunately turn out to be the case, but, if that happens, guess what? All your debt is written off after 30 years. So, if your earnings don’t rise sufficiently for you to pay back your education, you just… don’t pay it back. In essence, all you are paying for, eventually, is the premium value added to your career by your degree.
To give you an example of just how low the repayments end up being, consider the following student: they graduates from a globally-leading university, say, Imperial College, and have total tuition debt of £29,485, including interest accrued during studies. They get a great job at the Imperial average graduate salary at £37,006 a year. This means that they are paying back roughly £120 a month, or £1,440 a year. Assuming, extremely conservatively, that their earnings don’t increase at all, they will pay back the entirety of their tuition in these small instalments after a little over 20 years. In all likelihood, of course, Imperial graduates will get jobs in high-trajectory fields, and earnings will hopefully be rising of the course of their careers. If so, they will pay off their debt even sooner – in the region of just over 10 years.
Hopefully, it is clear that the size of the total fees, and the extraordinarily favourable conditions under which we repay them, provide all students in this country with an unparalleled opportunity to pursue a higher education, should they choose to do so. Consistently jumping on the socialist bandwagon, and demanding more and more at someone else’s expense, reflects an attitude of entitlement, and frankly total ingratitude for the privilege we are being offered by our Government and educational system. I implore you, therefore, not to go to the aforementioned rally, and to appreciate the fortune with which you have been bestowed by our University system.