Tuition Fees


I’m going vaguely off-topic today but I want to write about the vote to raise tuition fees at English Universities today and why I feel so strongly about it.

I have an undergraduate degree and a postgraduate degree. I have not paid a penny in tuition fees for either. I did have a loan to pay some of the living expenses for my first degree but that was paid off relatively quickly. Incidentally, the thought of the loan so distressed me at the time that I continued to choose to pay it back even though I was earning way below the ‘threshold’ to pay back. I was working as a volunteer and a care assistant when I paid back my now seemingly meagre student loan.

And that’s one of the issues I want to raise that I haven’t seen discussed in the press much.

Yes, Nick Clegg can argue till he’s blue in the face that logically having a threshold of not paying back anything until one is earning £21,000 means that these payments will be delayed makes this a ‘fair’ system but there is one element  he and the cabinet (and government) of millionaires have failed to appreciate – but then, I wouldn’t expect them to.

That logic appeals perfectly to the confident middle class mentality and attitude towards debt. That is the comfortable logic that grows up with someone who has grown up with an attitude of never having to really struggle to put food on the table.

There is a different mentality to debt when you grow up and you really don’t know what the next day will bring, whether you will ever have the security of work and have been taught from a young age that debt is bad. In that world, it doesn’t matter that you won’t pay back until you are earning £21,000 – you feel an obligation – yes, a moral obligation to pay back money that you owe.

I continued paying my student loan debt when I was earning £11,000 pa in London, simply because I hated the idea of debt and felt guilty having it.

The interest rates increasing is another nefarious touch but mostly my opposition comes with both the reduction of general funding towards higher education and laying the burden of debt onto a younger generation assuming the middle-class sensibilities exist regarding owing money and logical debt management.

As for the cost of university education, I favour additional income tax, both for future, current and past students. I am more than happy to subsidise todays and tomorrows students and pay back for what I was able to study when I needed it most. I would pay increased percentage points of income tax tomorrow to ensure that todays and tomorrows students gain the same opportunities that I had. Education is a right.

I am a Philosophy graduate as well. I loved (and continue) to love to learn. Even if I had gone to university, I doubt very much I would have chosen a subject like philosophy. It’s  hardly well-known for the production of immediately economically viable graduates. But I am enormously proud of my undergraduate degree and feel so fortunate in having been able to undertake it. I see its value now, far more than I did at the time because it taught me a way of thinking that I can apply to any other situation. Every day I am confronted in my work with ethical dilemmas and the rather esoteric ‘philosophy of language’ that I took in my final year relates absolutely to anti-discriminatory practice and the way that words shape the ways we think about things. My at-the-time-hated logic classes that I struggled with because it all seemed ‘too much like Maths’ have provided an absolutely fantastic foundation in forming and presenting arguments. I am a far better practitioner for having a first degree in philosophy than I would have been had I taken an undergraduate degree in social work when I initially left school – which is a moot point because I don’t think I even knew what social workers did when I left school!

But where are the philosophy graduates of tomorrow? Eton, Harrow, Westminster?

I doubt very much they are growing up on the same estate I grew up in.

9 thoughts on “Tuition Fees

  1. well i dont allways comment but heres my thoughts its better that the goverment is trying to help people insted he could just pull the plug completly people who study should have to pay back when they make over £21.000 that is quite a lot of money it sounds fair but is there a catch with all this

  2. When your daddy is worth 30-40-50 millions or more then leaving uni owing £40k is not a problem, “daddy will sign a cheque” is the oft heard phrase amongst the well offs.

    Like you say, in poor backgrounds there is a stigma to debt that just won’t go away and many will not want to go down that route thus barring many from an education leading to a degree.

    Once again it hits the poorest hardest.

  3. Hmmmm, free tuition. What a wonderful concept. Not one that we have here in the colonies, unfortunately. During my three social work degrees (diploma, bachelor, masters) I had to work to pay my expenses (my husband was not earning nearly enough to pay for everything) as well as my tuition and books. Got loans for two of the practicum periods (two I was able to work through at the same time). Still paying those off (but at very low rates). Of course the tuition is highly subsidized, but is currently running approximately $500 per course per semester plus upwards of $150 per course per semester for books. It adds up quickly.

  4. Tuition has risen at twice the cost of inflation over here and then there are fees, which are outlandish (at OU, the university in my town, the fees are actually MORE than the tuition itself–it’s a way universities can advertise their “low tuition” costs) not mention books and living expenses. I got my masters just in time–the price for school skyrocketed in the aughts and the thought of The Boy going in just 2.5 years terrifies me.

    Very few people in the states graduate without piles of student loans. And when I say “piles” I mean easily debt in the five figures–and that’s attending state schools. Go to a private school and your tuition is well over 20K a year. It’s part of the process of going to school here. Websites abound on how to lower the costs, but I think everyone assumes they’ll have to take out loans at some point. I did for undergrad.

  5. Yes, I know we should probably be grateful but it is partly that I’m terrified of the US system without the strong tradition of scholarships..

  6. I am delighted to read positive, if cautious, comments about the potential impact of philosophy on caring practice, for want of a better phrase. That is what I hope for from the recent growth of the philosophy of mental health.

  7. i see it there now taking away ema does the goverment know what it is doing im starting to get the feeling that goverment i get the distinkt feeling he really dosnt actualy want people to learn he dosnt want disabled people and he dosnt want menatly ill peole he wants workers and nothing but heres the problem if you dont cure the mentaly ill there not workers never will be if you take the youngest students you stop them learning you make them unable to stay on at school so you dont have many uni students left i tihnk now i see the bigger picture and its taken time the ritcher get ritcher and the poorest people get poorer because no body will be able to get into uni because no one will have the education it is going to create a poverty track for students before they leave school

  8. Tim – I love the idea of the growth of ‘philosophy of mental health’. Great blog and I am sooo tempted by the course, you wouldn’t believe. It’s just not a great time to ask for course funding at the moment!

    Kevin – I think you’re right.

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