Tuition fees – A brief history of treachery


If there’s one thing that everyone knows about politicians it’s that they can’t be trusted with anything. Historically, you have the poll tax, and anyone who’s gone to university in the past few years has Nick Clegg to thank for unapologetically raising the tuition fees despite being adamant he wouldn’t. This has led to huge debt becoming a stark reality for current and prospective students, so what has the government done in the way of trying to ease this burden on the nation’s students? Well, they’ve increased tuition fees, again.

The first thing that comes to mind when tuition fees are brought up is: are they really needed? Looking at how universities are managed in Europe the short answer would be ‘no they aren’t’. While tuition fees in this country have risen to an extortionate £9000 a year, in France an average higher education course can cost as little as 150€ per term. Other countries, namely Iceland, Finland and Norway have decided against tuition fees entirely. The reason for the absence of tuition fees is often down to increase in taxes in the respective countries and also the fact that the population of students there is several times smaller than it is in the UK.

Having to pay nearly £9,000 a year for tuition fees leads to the majority of the students in the UK coming straight out of university with one a degree but more worryingly over £44,000 of debt with no sure-fire way of being able to pay any of it back. So how did we get to a point where students are being charged just for wanting to learn and improve their lives?

The introduction of tuition fees began in 1998 in response to the claims by the then Conservative government that in order to support student enrollment and create a substantial infrastructure that £2 billion would be needed over the next four year period. Around this time we would see the introduction of maintenance grants based on a family income, and this would later be replaced with the maintenance loan. In order to cope with inflation and after the Higher Education Act of 2004 tuition fees rose to around £3,000, which in recent months was shown to have been rejected and opposed by the now Chancellor George Osbourne. Wow – didn’t he change his mind quickly?

The tuition fee saga doesn’t stop there though, and began to involve a certain political party leader that became public enemy number one of every student in the UK. The Liberal Democrats had always supported the idea of free higher education, even pledging to the NUS that they would vote against raising the cap on tuition fees. Several high profile Lib Dems MPs including Vince Cable and Nick Clegg voted in favour of raising the cap on tuition fees, drastically affecting their popularity and losing all support from the students that had long supported them.

This brings us to the present day where students like myself have to pay £9,000 a year to get a university degree that would have cost nothing just 20 years ago, and it only seems to be going downhill from here. In the past few months, the Conservative government has replaced the maintenance grants with loans, lumbering students with even more debt, while also entertaining the idea of giving the courts new powers to prosecute students who don’t pay back their debt. Only less than half of us believe that our degrees will pay for themselves and who can blame us, with an increasingly competitive job market and lack of graduate jobs, who wants to subject themselves to a lifetime of debt when it’s much easier to leave school and get a job?


Photo credit: Flickr // Antony Bennison

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