DEBATE: Have the changes to university tuition fees since 2011 failed?

A National Day Of Protest Is Held As Students Demonstrate Over Tuition Fees
The idea of tuition fees was to inject some much-needed competition into the higher education sector (Source: Getty)

Have the changes to university tuition fees since 2011 failed?

Olivia Utley, news and features editor at Reaction, says YES.

When the government first raised the threshold to allow universities to charge up to £9,000 in tuition fees, the idea was to inject some much-needed competition into the higher education sector. The theory was that the best universities would charge the full £9,000, and the smaller names would charge less. Universities would have an incentive to improve, and students would have some choice.

It didn’t work out like that. Universities essentially formed a cartel by all deciding to charge the full amount for most courses.

As a result, at one end of the spectrum we have young people graduating from the old polytechnics with £45,000 of debt they have little to no hope of paying back – and on the other, we have top graduates falling into uncontrollable spirals of debt because of compounded interest rates that were introduced so the government could recoup some of the loss.

The idea was a good one, but the government must now accept that, thanks to ministers’ naivety and punitively high interest rates, it has failed.

Read more: Link university costs to economic benefit of subjects - education secretary

Alex Deane, a Conservative commentator, says NO.

Following the 2011 reforms, more people go to university than ever, while simultaneously paying (part of) their own way. This is an unambiguous win-win for British society, a remarkable – and fast-occurring – societal transition that we should celebrate, rather than one that should have us wringing our hands.

The reason that a real market has yet to develop and fees are clumped together at the top end of the spectrum is politically unsayable but economically obvious: tuition fees are still too low.

The main point: graduates do far better on average than non-graduates economically over their lifetimes, and have made the active choice to study. Nobody made them go to university.

The present system means they go some way to paying for their highly beneficial study. Lowering fees would mean that students are subsidised even more by non-graduates via general taxation.

Reducing the contribution students make raises that of others, benefitting the most well off at the expense of the least well off. How can that be right?

Read more: Theresa May to woo parents with pledge to tackle university fees

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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