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Aarhus University Aula
Originally uploaded by Gammelmark

On the Andrew Marr Show this morning, they were again briefly discussing tuition fees vs. a graduate tax, and it was mentioned that annual fees at the best universities might rise to £10k a year.

This is crazy if we’re talking about state universities. In the US, fees are “£3,572 a year (although students at private universities pay a lot more on average, £13,877)” – and don’t forget that American parents tend to save up for their children’s university education from the day they’re born.

I’m starting to think that the move towards higher and higher university fees in England are due to Oxbridge comparing themselves to the Ivy League in the US, which are extremely well-funded universities.

Proponents of tuition fees tend to argue that it’s OK so long as there are grants for the poorest students, but what about the 80% of the population in the middle that aren’t poor enough to qualify for the grants, but not rich enough to pay for all their kids’ tuition fees and accommodation, either?

Also, tuition fee fans often say that the graduate premium (i.e., the amount of money you earn extra because of your degree) is so high that it’s a no-brainer to get a university education, no matter how much it costs. If that’s the case, why should anybody get a grant, so long as there are loans available to postpone payment till they’ve embarked on their hopefully lucrative careers?

The way I see it, if people make so much more money over a life time if they go to uni, they will presumably pay more tax, too, so it should be a no-brainer for the state to send young people to uni, paying for their education and giving them grants to give them the best possible basis for making a fortunate and paying a lot of taxes.

On the other hand, I have a feeling that Oxford and Cambridge will never be satisfied with any level of state funding. So why don’t we simply cut them free and make them private universities without any state funding whatsoever, except for charitable status if they give free places to poor students, just like private schools? They’re probably famous enough that they can attract more than enough students worldwide who are willing to pay £15k a year.

We should then move the remaining universities back to exclusive state funding, and reintroduce student grants allowing students to concentrate on their studies, but at the same time make universities tougher again to ensure graduates are ready for a globalised world.