As their time in power draws to a close, many are looking back on the New Labour years wondering whether they lived up to the expectations people had back in 1997. The consensus is ‘no’: they have been a government that has failed to deliver in health, welfare, defence, and public life, but no more so than in education. There has been no progression from the days of ‘Education Education Education’.
The subject of university fees threatened to divide the government back in 2004 and is now back on the agenda. A new survey finds that two-thirds of vice-chancellors think that tuition fees need to be raised above the present £3,500 cap, and 10% felt that a cap should be abolished all together.
In order to provide the best quality education universities clearly need higher funds. By capping the fees they can charge, the government is both depriving them of resources and stifling any competitive element out of the market, resulting in a poorer overall output.
There is clearly the issue that intelligent students from poorer backgrounds should have the same opportunities as the middle-classes. This is a valid point, and certainly education should be one of the more meritocratic aspects of life. However, it would be foolish to think that universities only want wealthy students irrespective of their aptitude. If the government didn’t keep tuition fees artificially low, universities and trusts would be more willing to give grants and aid to those unable but deserving of university places.
Furthermore government targets to get more and more students through university are counterproductive. As with most top-down government targets, they are inefficient and ill thought out. The inevitable impact of simply churning thousands of students through university is the fall in the value of a British education – and you don’t need a degree to work that one out!