This week’s protests over a proposed rise in university tuition fees demonstrate the long term problem of how reliance on the state creates an unjustified sense of entitlement. Although some of the protesters were simply members of hard-left groups out to cause a stir, the genuinely disaffected students need to understand the current problem that a lack of funding is preventing the provision of a high quality service.
Britain cannot continue to provide institutions of academic and teaching excellence in higher education under the current system. Regardless of the national debt crisis, universities must be allowed to turn to the market if they are to be internationally competitive. Demand has simply been too high for universities to cope on the limited money they receive from existing fees and taxpayers.
Moreover, opponents of the tuition fee increases have arguably failed to address the issue of whether all taxpayers should have to pay for a student’s university education. One of the banners at the protest read “a degree should be for free”. There are, however, strong objections to this viewpoint. The following scenario should explain why:
Barry leaves school at 16 having not really enjoyed his studies. He works part time and saves up money for a plumbing apprenticeship. He works for years as a plumber, before he meets Steve and Dave who are also plumbers. They form a plumbing company which services their local area, are successful and can each take home a salary of £70,000 a year. Why should Barry have to pay for Nathaniel to go to Cambridge University to study Classics, before becoming a wealthy management consultant after he graduates?
Contrary to the banner, a degree should not be “for free”. It is not an entitlement for all, but is in fact a form of risk. It costs money, but if the risk pays off then the consumer will cash in. It is just as much a form of risk as not going to university. Those who have chosen to risk not going to university should not have to pay for those who do.
As Mark Littlewood recently wrote, the proposed government policy is a step in the right direction, but does not go far enough. Universities in this country would truly become excellent if they were opened up to the market. They would also be a greater capacity to help poorer scholars who are capable of attending but cannot afford to, as is seen with arrangements for students from low-income backgrounds at American universities. For now, however, the protesters should accept that the current system cannot continue.