The Cost of Higher Education

The UK government seems intent on keeping higher education and the opportunities it brings to the rich, like themselves. If you are bright or ambitious but your household income is the UK average of £26,500, either be prepared to be saddled with about £45,000 in debt or lower your expectations. As a way to cut the government budget, they propose to phase out the student support grants . These non-repayable grants of up to £3,397 per year pay a portion of the non-tuition expenses of a university student incurs. While this may be a trivial amount for an MP earning £67,060 (set to increase to £74,000) it is a significant amount to the those that qualify for the payment.

Clearly this is a false economy. Those students unable to attend university due to lack of funds will have lower paying jobs and pay lower taxes. Those who attend anyway will have a massive debt that lowers their standard of living and prevents them from making purchases that stimulate the economy. Both can resign themselves to never being able to save up the large deposits necessary to purchase a house and get on the property ladder. Additionally, there will be an increase in the division between societal classes and growing tensions and resentment.

In the USA, the choice of university is primarily based on cost with a wide variety of options, from local colleges to state universities to elite private universities. When my children were completing their A-levels and looking at universities, I was pleased that in Britain the choice was based on courses offered and the grades they earned, not the condition of our bank account.

In 1998 Britain introduced its first university fees of £1000 per year. In 2004 (in England) this increased to £3000, in 2010 to £3290, and in 2012 to £6000 or £9000, depending on the course and university. By making a university education unaffordable to a large section of qualified, intelligent students, the government will reduce the number of British students studying at British universities and create more room for the non-British students who pay higher fees. It will make the government happy by reducing their budget, the universities happy by increasing their income, and the non-British students happy by enabling them to acquire an education at some of the best universities. The only ones not happy will be the students that must give up their dream and settle for a job below their potential.

Other countries, such as Sweden or Denmark, offer free university education to their citizens and yet they have among the highest standards of living. Instead of eliminating the student support grant, increase them and/or lower the tuition fees to make university education an option based on ability rather than luck of birth.