tuition fees

Securitising Britain’s Future: A free market solution to university funding


  When the Coalition Government increased tuition fees from £3,300 to £9,000 a year, it had done so to provide a sustainable alternative that would boost university’s incomes and cut government spending. But there are reasons to believe this has failed. The Guardian reported that the new funding system is likely to cost the government not less, but more money than the system it replaced. It is time to reevaluate university funding, and I propose the following alternative: a system under which students would agree to ‘sell’ a percentage of their future income to their university in exchange for an education.

Under the current system moral hazard occurs since the universities need not worry about its students’ ability to repay their loans. Instead, the government will bear the costs if students default. This is a problem in desperate need of addressing especially considering that an estimated 73% of graduates will not be able to fully repay their loans.

Under the proposed system in which universities own the income rights to students’ future earnings, the incentive structure would be changed as to align the interests of students, universities and society alike. Universities will factor in how much their education will benefit their students in terms of their future earnings. This allows relative prices to convey how much certain professions are, in fact, valued by society. The university would encourage more students to take up careers that are more valued and it could charge less (in terms of percentage points) for the degrees with better prospects than those with worse.

By contrast, universities today charge uniform rates and have an incentive to provide the most appealing courses - which often mean courses that are enjoyable or easy - rather than being actually useful or valuable. The graduates may therefore lack the skills to be productive members of the workforce, despite accumulating large debts. Universities even have an incentive to admit students it knows will not benefit from the course since it will nonetheless receive government funding.

In turn, universities could sell its future income rights through a process of ‘securitisation’, per course or as a diversified portfolio. This free-market solution provides an equitable opportunity to all, since students’ ability to attend university is not depended upon current wealth but future earnings; thus depended upon skill and merit, not money. This system would streamline all stakeholders’ interests and ‘securitise’ Britain’s free and prosperous future.

Tamay is the runner-up in the 18-21 category of the ASI's 'Young Writer on Liberty' competition. 

Economic Nonsense: 47. The state should pay for university education because it benefits society


University education benefits society in several ways.  A skilled, university-educated workforce can boost economic growth and make society richer than it would have been without them.  Less well-off and less well-educated people benefit from this, just as a rising tide lifts all boats.

The experience of going through university generally produces people who are not only educated in their chosen subjects, but who have been exposed to more cultural influences in the process.  Many people would think a society to be a better one if it contained significant numbers of educated and cultured people.  It provides more opportunities for intellectual stimulation and self-development.

All of this is true to some degree, and benefits society as a whole, but there is little doubt that by far the greatest value of a university education accrues to the person who undertakes it.  There is firstly the personal fulfilment that comes from attaining more of one's potential, but there are more material rewards as well.

Possession of a university degree in the UK increases one's employability.  For those in the workforce, aged 18-65, employment among graduates is 87%, as opposed to 70% for non-graduates.  Median salary is higher, too, with graduates on average earning £9,000 more per year than their non-graduate counterparts.  Over a working life this could top £400,000 of extra salary attributable to the degree.  

This constitutes an overwhelming advantage accruing to the individual who undertakes a university degree.  While there are undoubted benefits to society, those gained by the individual are high and measurable.  They make the loans undertaken to finance university, perhaps £36,000 for a 3-year degree, a very good investment indeed.

When people suggest the state should pay for this, they mean taxpayers should.  It seems strange that a person not equipped to benefit from university, someone who leaves school at 16 to become a bricklayer, for example, should be called upon to pay higher taxes so that someone else, already endowed with more academic and intellectual ability, should benefit from what amounts to a ticket to a higher salary for life.  

Some would call this unfair, and suggest that those who gain the most from university education should finance most of its costs.

‘Radical’ policy, electoral cycles, protests and term-length


Implementing ‘radical’ policy carries risks. Abolishing marriage law, scrapping the minimum wage or converting a central banking system into one of free banking carries the inherent risk of ‘shocking’ the population, to put it mildly. There are remedial measures that can be taken but rigid electoral conventions and the length of governments’ terms makes their implementation more difficult. For example, suddenly abolishing the minimum wage would likely cause immediate harm to those on it (or being paid close to it) if it were done in an improper, ‘shocking’ manner – and that’s not even considering the long-term sociological impact of the resulting aversion to ‘free market’ ideas involving ‘liberalisation’ and ‘deregulation’. Putting aside the long-term individual, communal and intergenerational psychological impact of poorly managed liberalisation policies, the immediate harm is mainly caused by the fact that the affected individuals have little time to prepare for it and, therefore, any immediate harm can be mitigated if policy is announced well in advance.

On the 9th December 2010, the House of Commons voted to raise the tuition fees cap. By then, so many students had already applied to university and were due to start in 2011 (though, admittedly, the tuition fee rise would not be effective until 2012) and the students from the year below who had made plans based on previous estimates would feel the brunt of this. One and a half years is hardly enough for those students and their families to make suitable provisions for a 3 or 4-year, full-time course at Uni (which has increasingly become the preserve of the middle-class).

Furthermore, the sense of an impending tuition fee rise no doubt exacerbated the sentiments necessary for a strike. If, instead, they announced their plans at the start of the term but delayed actual implementation until mid-way or late into the term, any protests may actually be smaller since people would have had a longer time to lobby/reason with the government and, indeed, for the policy’s advocates to reason with and persuade the people.

Thus, when planning to implement such policy, an adequately advanced announcement ensures that those affected have time to make provisions and, therefore, significantly diminish any potential, immediate harm caused upon implementation.

The problem, however, is the phenomenon of behavioural changes during electoral cycles; politicians and governments behave differently before and after elections (think promises before and actions after elections as well as populist policies in the run-up to elections) – they want to win elections and, sometimes, expectations-stability when implementing radical policy is sacrificed.

One possible policy suggestion here is to allow the electorate to choose how long they would like the government’s term to be during the elections (by indicating a preferred term-length and then collating the results according to a collated ranking system or weighted average of some sort – of course, selecting the optimal social preference ordering methodology is controversial but that is beyond the scope of this blog post). If the electorate were to opt for a longer term-length, it would be a signal (quite possibly of confidence or of a desire for longer-lasting stability or simply a desire to delay future elections etc.) and this means that otherwise shocking policy can be implemented with less immediate harm. Conversely, shorter term-lengths will ensure that those governments with shaky mandates will be time-constrained in implementing their more extreme policy proposals.