Still no free lunch

lunchThere’s no such thing as a free lunch. Nor, is there such a thing as a free degree. From the moment that government started subsidizing higher education, it has been those at the lower end of the socio-economic scale who pay without benefiting.

Although many make the case that poorer people can’t afford a place at university under the current system, they seem to overlook the other ways in which university could be paid for. To answer this question we need only look overseas.

Through a combination of higher fees, loans and philanthropy, American universities are able to offer poorer students the opportunities within a system of private universities. For example, a student whose parents earn under £30,000 would find themselves fully funded at Harvard. Even those with a family income of £90,000 would only pay £9,000 per year in tuition.

This goes some way to explaining why so many intelligent British students are crossing the pond in search of a superior, cheaper degree. The British university system has a lot to learn. If universities were delinked from state subsidies they could become more dynamic and student focused, forced to improve or face a loss of students, and eventual closure. Given that students already want be treated as consumers – protesting at places like Manchester University when they feel they aren’t being given value for money – the time is right for change.

Students that complain about having to pay for degrees have a very shortsighted view. Their argument that they don’t want to come out of University with £20,000 of debt seems to pale into insignificance when the education received could result in significant future earning. Yet the students are asking for those without this future privilege to pay for their education. It is time they stopped eating from their table.