UK Student Fees Still A Bad Idea

January 30, 2012

A this year resolution is to blog more and blog effectively. But I’m counting the Iranian New Year as the start date, so I’ve begun over a month early.

It was a huge mistake for Labour to have opened the door in the first place (not to mention the scandalous misappropriation that ensued), but it’s an even bigger mistake to lift the cap. We can just look at the US model to see that universities in markets are really bad at holding down costs in any way (US tuition has risen faster than inflation for decades).

I suspect that it won’t affect the core of the applicant pool immediately. While this Guardian article has the alarming headling, “UK university applications in ‘steepest fall for 30 years'”, buried toward the bottom it acknowledges:

The fall has been partly blamed on the fee hike, but is also thought to be due to a glut of applications in 2010 in anticipation of the fees rise. Demographic factors could also be behind the slump. The number of 18-year-olds in the UK is projected to decline over the rest of the decade by 11%.

So, it’s the biggest fall, but we had a big bulge last year. Hmmm.

We’re still rejecting a lot  (140,000…and university places have been slashed), so if the fees are “merely” scaring off students that wouldn’t have gotten in anyway, it’s hard to argue that the fees induced a problem in the applicant pool per se.

I think the biggest problem is the huge amount of distortion it introduces into people’s lives. Debt brings anxiety (even debt governed by liberal forgiveness and repayment policies). New parents will start thinking about “college funds”. Applicants will focus even more narrowly on their job prospects and be less willing to take risks in their education or simply go elsewhere. Graduates will be loathe to take on more risk and perhaps will even have trouble securing useful debt (mortgages, small business loans, etc.). Generations will be divided and later ones will be more hostile to reversing fees or any similar sort of generosity.

(It’s really like health care. I mostly had reasonable health insurance when I lived in the States (except for a few scary moments; Zoe and I married in part to get her on my UMCP policy), and it was still awful. Every doctors trip was a PITA and a drain. I’d get scary bill looking notices from the insurance company that turned out to be NOT A BILL. I had an ambulance ride charged to me when I was a student that I had a lot of trouble paying off. Etc. Etc. Etc. And I had a mostly good experience!)

This isn’t healthy. Perhaps it would be worth it if it brought about more educational efficiency and held down costs, but that’s really unlikely. A highly educated populace is generally acknowledged to be valuable. We should invest in it.

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