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How is the increase in student fees impacting on university attendance?

Posted by: Megan Troster

In 2012 the newly elected conservative government bumped up the cost of higher education for students, trebling fees from £3,375 per year to £9,000 and transforming higher education into a commodity; a topic that’s been of high debate ever since.With living loans to further increase this year; will this put off potential undergraduates? Future plans to open up the higher education sector to greater competition could allow companies such as Facebook, Apple and Google to open up their own universities. The deregulation of funded, full-time undergraduate places means that from 2015 there are no limits on the numbers of students universities can enroll and under the previous coalition government the process has been consolidated and accelerated. So how exactly is this affecting students within the UK? From a glance you would expect potential students to be put off with the thought of leaving university with an astronomical £40,000 debt behind their name. But is this actually the case?

According to UCAS, the number of university applications has exceeded the record. As shown from the table taken from the deadline applicant statistics January 2016, 593,720 applications have been made for students to start in September this year. 

In November 2015, students marched through London in protest, calling for the abolishment of fees completely and an entitlement to a ‘free education’ via retention of maintenance grants.

From the start of the 2016-17 academic year maintenance loans will replace grants. The loan will see new students receiving £8,200 a year (£766 more than the grant) but the money will have to be repaid once a graduate earns more than £21,000 a year in employment.

Labour Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, stated that he thought students had been betrayed and that education should be a ‘gift from one generation to another, not a commodity to be bought or sold.’ Jeremy Corbyn’s lastest campaign: #Torypricetag opposes Cameron’s ‘tax on learning’ and so far has 150,000 signatures. Corbyn would like to see tuition fees abolished completely by raising taxes of high earners or businesses to £10billion to compensate. Speaking recently in the House of Commons, he aired his thoughts on how he believes students are penalised in today’s society because they are in more debt than ever, but are they really victims?

What effect would this concept of free education have on the economy? If you look at the bigger picture, money made from graduates is invested back into the UK’s economy through higher graduate wages and it is therefore only fair that students should contribute a reasonable share of the costs. With higher wages come better job satisfaction, increased health benefits and life span.

The main ironies of the marketisation of higher education include value for money, system effectiveness, information and consumer choice, quality, and the role of the state. Academics are concerned that new private colleges risk damaging the UK’s standards of higher education. There is a risk of students buying worthless degrees as these ‘challenger institutions’ experiment by opening up private colleges. This movement was permitted in the hope of narrowing the skills shortfall that some employment sectors have. It could also increase the trend of Universities interacting directly with students as consumers, rather than with the Government or Government agency acting on the student’s behalf. Could there be a need to adopt a ‘Student knows best’ policy"? With students being empowered to act as the consumer, institutions are then expected to respond to their needs and preferences or lose their custom.

Analysis of figures taken from UCAS statistics reveals that young people from the UK’s most disadvantaged areas are now more likely than ever to apply to higher education. Vince Cable, Business Secretary at the time of the reform said that the figures are a result of a ‘significant headway’ that the government has made to breakdown barriers to higher education. At the time of student finances reform it was thought that young people would be discouraged from going to university, when in fact, the opposite has occurred.



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