The Government’s website factsonfees needs to be more widely known about. It busts some prevalent myths and makes it clear that, for the vast majority of people, the new system about which we are all so upset is actually better than the old one.
We should bear in mind, when we are getting upset about the bottom line figure of £9000 per year, that virtually no one will end up paying that. One other very important and positive addition is the cancelling of any debt after 30 years.
Reading this, you may think I am one of these rare people supporting the fees. I’m not. I happen to think they are better than the current system, I also happen to think the Lib Dems have done quite well to give us a far more progressive system than we would have seen had the Torys been acting alone. Finally, while the general population benefits from the education graduates receive, they don’t benefit as much as the graduate themselves and so I am also broadly behind finding some* of the money to fund the next generation’s education from the increased wealth of those that have benefitted before.
I think Nick Clegg has behaved like a politician throughout this whole thing, and not the new kind he promised. If he had said “we don’t like this, but we are in a coalition and we have done our best to make a bad deal more palatable and it is better than the old system”, I would have been behind him all the way. But instead, he tried to fob everyone of by selling it as a good idea and it isn’t.
Fees are a bad idea for one reason and one reason only – the fear of being in debt puts people off going to university.
That may be a misguided fear and, according to Nick Clegg (who is, I think, backed up by the data) it is. People shouldn’t fear the debt tuition fees will leave them with. But they do and no amount of cajoling or berating is going to stop that.
Leaving the current system more or less as it is but renaming it Graduate Tax may be all that is required. Rebranding sounds like shallow nonsense but in this case the diference is meaningful, at least for the large UK muslim population. Paying interest is against the Islamic faith; some do it, but many will not. A lot of the country’s muslims are also the country’s poorest and so that is exactly the demographic the Government is trying to get to go through higher education. Simply renaming the system as a tax rather than fees and student loans would solve that problem at a stroke.
Sometimes it isn’t enough to do the right thing, you have to do it the right way and for the right reasons too.
*note I said “some”. I was broadly satisfied with the 40:60 split we had before the last budget and one of the things that seems to have passed almost unnoticed through this kerfuffle is the rebalancing of that to 60:40. That, more than any row over student loans and increased fees, is the biggest threat to a publicly funded education system we currently face and that is what we should be shouting about.