With the publishing of Lord Browne’s report earlier this month, it seemed that the Coalition government was on the right path to creating a competitive market-based university system. Now they are doing a U-turn and are feeling “uneasy” about the suggestions outlined in the report. The proposals included in the report that addressed the problem of university funding are now being scrapped.
In recent days there has been increasing political discourse about the benefits of a tuition fee cap. Leading Liberal Democrats have stated that they are “uneasy” about the proposed unlimited fees, as they believe it would create a disincentive for pupils from poorer backgrounds to attend university.
The concept of unlimited fees that accompanies a shift toward a free-market university system is not about shutting out students from low-income backgrounds. It is about ensuring that those who receive a better education from a highly regarded university pay more than someone who attends a less prestigious institution. This is fair.
The individual who pays more for higher education makes the rational decision that by attending that particular university their future earnings will be greater and generally their gain is greater than the cost of study, therefore they are prepared to pay more for their education. This should be the same consideration that all school leavers make regardless of their background. If they are capable of getting into higher quality universities paying more should not be a disincentive, as the repayments are the same for all.
Worse still is the proposed alternative: a graduate tax. A redemption penalty that has been proposed by the Liberal Democrats transforms student loans into a tax on success. It penalises those who can pay it off earlier rather than later. Students who enter a high paying job and are in the position to pay off their loan should be able to do so, why should they pay more? The government should not dictate how and when students choose to pay off their loans.
Though the Browne report was a step in the right direction for both universities and university funding, it has fallen victim to various pressure groups and politicians. We need to allow a market-based system if English universities are going to remain internationally regarded.