I am not sure how often this needs to be asserted.  But let’s keep doing so all the same.  As CentreForum has repeatedly argued – most recently in Time’s Up, a paper directed at the Liberal Democrats’ determination to scrap tuition fees, at great expense – the current way in which tuition fees are paid for does NOT put off the really disadvantaged from studying.

The latest evidence is from the funding agency Hefce.  It finds:

Youngsters in the poorest areas are 30% more likely to go to university than they were five years ago . . . A fifth of the poorest youngsters go to university, up from an eighth in 2004

I don’t wish to rub it in.  But the pro-tuition fees side of the argument really has won.  And as the fiscal squeeze makes awkward choices ever more awkward, this may even filter down to the most determined activist.

Oh, and it looks like the IFS agrees:

Reforms to tuition fees and student support had no overall impact on the number of 18 or 19 year olds attending university in England


12 thoughts on “Tuition Fees have NOT put the disadvantaged off higher education

  1. What evidence is there, though, of poorer performance amongst poorer students because of them being more likely to take part-time work?

    1. I don’t know. But tuition fees ought not to contribute to part time work – they are 100% paid for by student loans, which are themselves not paid back until the student has (a) graduated and (b) started earning £15,000 or more. I have no doubt whatsover that living costs etc cause students to have to take on such work, and they have my sympathy. But the tuition fee policy has not contributed to this, IMHO

      1. I agree in principal, but a lot of people worry about their debt (in my opinion needlessly). It would be better if everyone made a huge point about this being the most worthwhile, cheapest and easiest to manage debt that you could ever find, because a lot of students don’t seem to understand this.

      2. I quite agree – though I have heard stories about students who get this, and max out their student loans on purpose. In a way, I would like student loans of this form to be extended to EVERY 18-21 year old . .

  2. I can say that in my personal experience, I didn’t think twice about whether I’d be able to pay back my student loan.

    Because it was years away, and the abstract sums simply didn’t register when I was 18.

    Most of my peers rushed to get £1000 overdrafts from their bank as soon as they got to uni. So they clearly weren’t thinking of their future debt-to-income ratios.

    The idea that poorer students are doing a cost-benefit analysis (and it would have to be a very bad one, given the long-term salary benefits of having a degree) and thinking “hmm, if I get a student loan I’ll have to pay the money back at an inflation-tagged rate of interest – oh no, that’s not worth it” are laughable. The data you provides elevates the conclusion of my anectodes to the status of being evidence-based.

    Poor kids don’t got to Uni, more than anything, because they’re more likely to perform badly at school in the first place so lack the grades and have a bad experience of education (because poor kids tend to go to bad schools), and because there’s a higher propensity for poor families and communities to have a prevalent ethos which is geared against higher education in favour of work.

    I’m with C:F on this one: it’s completely fair for students to pay a bigher chunk of their university fees via the loan system (partly in reflection of higher earning potential in later life), and the claim that this puts-off lower-income students is manifeslty – as you point out – false.

  3. To be fair tho’, this report looked at the effect of higher fees in the context of higher grants. So it is right as far as it goes, but it does not mean that access would be unaffected by higher fees unless those higher fees were accompanied by correspondingly higher grants.

    Indeed, the IFS suggested a 4% participation drop from a £1000 rise without more grants.

    So we need to be careful not to claim more for this study than it delivers. Look at MSc degrees – big fees, small grants, not many students from poor backgrounds.

    1. Agreed, and fair point. But I would counter that LD policy (and I appreciate that this is an election year, so I’ll shut up soon) is aimed at our entire current system – grants and all – and calling it unfair.

  4. Sorry, I don’t get it. Why not just fund education through general taxation? Everyone benefits from a highly educated workforce, so as a matter of principal it should be funded through general taxation. The argument you put forth here is illogical and inconsistent. What about all other things that we fund through taxation – health, standard education etc.? Are you proposing we fund these in the same way?

    1. I think there is an asymmetry at work that makes the health-education comparison invalid. 35% of the population get HE; they tend to reap rewards in the hundreds of thousands over their subsequent lives, and regardless of a positive externality for the populace as a whole, a huge chunk of the benefit is enjoyed privately.

      Health: if someone is unwell, there is a downside risk that everyone in society will feel obliged to bear, for decent moral reasons. Hence, unlike the ‘venture capital investment’ that is high educational investment, it is more like insurance, with problems of adverse selection etc that make it rational to pool the risks.

      So the two are not comparable.

      The reason standard education is rightly funded by general taxation is (a) because of the downside risks when people are not even basically educated and (b) because the decision making affects people well before they are able to make decisions and (c) it is and should be compulsory. Students are actually adults. My decision to do a course in accountancy, say, is an adult decision. So too for PPE.

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