National politics

Those pesky LibDems – destroying universities

The LibDems’ star will start to dim as soon as everyone thinks through their policy prescriptions, which are lightweight to say the least. Let’s take university tuition fees. Never afraid of being populist they aim to overturn one of the few brave things that Tony Blair did – ask people who are going to get a lot wealthier to pay for their higher education.

The LibDems say in their manifesto:

We will scrap unfair university tuition fees so everyone has the chance to get a degree, regardless of their parents’ income.

Scrap unfair university tuition fees for all students taking their first degree, including those studying part-time, saving them over £10,000 each. We have a financially responsible plan to phase fees out over six years, so that the change is affordable even in these difficult economic times, and without cutting university income. We will immediately scrap fees for final year students.

Their figures on page 100 show the cost of this concession rising year on year to £1,765 million by 2014/5. The trouble with this proposal is that the universities are in dire need of more income and they have already started asking for the uniform tuition fee to be uncapped to allow universities to be able to charge varying rates. If you look at the totality of university financing (figures below provided by the Higher Education Statistics Agency here) you will see that the LibDems’ £1,765 million in 2014/5 is only 6.4% of university income in 2008/9. The £685 million they are talking about in 2010/11 is only 2.7%.

The real problem with the LibDem’s proposal is not the relatively small increase in government spending that it implies. The main problem is that it makes the universities more dependent on the state at a time when the state cannot afford to be generous. This proposal will lead to fewer, worser universities or fewer students or both. In addition if we set the price expectation for a university education at zero and make it effectively a social service we will end up with more under-motivated students who think that university life is a pleasant interlude between school and work. Tuition fees are very useful for focussing the minds of young people and those of their parents. We need young people to be working hard at university or working hard in, er, work, not goofing off on the state. Believe me they do even under the current regime – ask any student.

4 replies on “Those pesky LibDems – destroying universities”

Maybe less university places, with no fees, allocated purely on merit might be a good idea?

Oh, that was what we used to have wasn’t it, and it didn’t mask the youth unemployment figures well enough did it… so we decided to send 50% of young people to university, whether or not it was what they really needed.


You make a good point and my generation was certainly the beneficiary of such a system but it is probably fair to say that too few people went to university in those days. The price mechanism is a good way for making people think very hard about the benefits of a university education. Fees let those go who think it is worth it ultimately.

I’m at University and I agree that abolishing fee’s is a bad idea.

However I disagree with what you said about fee’s focusing students on their studies. Students are completely disconnected from the cost of their education and use the money for anything besides studying. The students who do recognise that they are pay for this chance and should therefore try hard to make the most of it, are generally those students that would probably take the initiative regardless.

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