Education: How Higher Fees Could Help Everyone ; Leading Universities Are Proposing to Charge Extra for Popular Courses. but This Need Not Lead to a Two-Tier System, Says Gareth Williams
Williams, Gareth, The Independent (London, England)
The Russell Group, a self-selected band of successful, popular and politically influential universities, has made the unsurprising observation that British universities and colleges are chronically short of cash.
As student numbers go up to meet Government targets and income per student goes down, they are required to improve their already internationally respected teaching and research to meet national assessment demands. They are also expected to generate additional income, often in ways only remotely connected with their central functions as universities.
The Government accepted, when it passed the Teaching and Higher Education Act in 1998, that the only realistic way of obtaining additional income for teaching is from the students. This is not unfair. Most graduates earn much more during their life than non- graduates - some very much more. Students finance their fees through loans, but because these are privatised, they need not place additional burdens on taxpayers. Therefore, there is no reason why the Treasury should oppose further loan-based student expansion.
The Russell Group's proposals to charge "top-up" or premium fees for their highly sought-after courses could certainly bring substantial additional income into higher education.
Financial institutions would be willing to lend large sums at a very
low-risk premium to Oxford and Cambridge, the London School of Economics or Imperial College London to enable these institutions to offer higher loans to their students than those presently permitted.
However, premium fees would benefit the university that received them but would do nothing for everybody else. The privileged universities and departments would become ever more privileged. Social class divisions between high-fee institutions and the rest would become as acute in higher education as they already are in secondary schools.
More important, the money would go to the universities that need it least. Able students who have benefited from a good secondary education are easier and less expensive to teach than those who need more help in finding material in the library or on the internet, whose essays need revising several times before they are comprehensible, or those who have to undertake paid work to maintain themselves.
If popular universities are to bring extra cash into the system by charging students more for the very considerable benefits they receive, a way must be found to ensure that some of that extra money finds its way to the universities and colleges that really need it.
Sometimes it is suggested that the solution is for Russell Group universities to leave the public system altogether, and make their own way, like private secondary schools or hospitals. But there is a third way, between equal misery for all at the public expense and a two-tier system. Premium fees could benefit everybody with no adverse equity effects with the following easily administered modifications to the present scheme.
Firstly, the Government must accept that differential fees form part of a state-backed, though privately provided, loan scheme in which repayments are dependent …
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Publication information: Article title: Education: How Higher Fees Could Help Everyone ; Leading Universities Are Proposing to Charge Extra for Popular Courses. but This Need Not Lead to a Two-Tier System, Says Gareth Williams. Contributors: Williams, Gareth - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: October 5, 2000. Page number: 6. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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