Why the student protesters are wrong

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.

8 thoughts on “Why the student protesters are wrong”

  1. Posted 13/11/2010 at 18:38 | Permalink

    I agree with this up to a point, but not to the extent of inducing universities to follow commercial logic at the expense of the disinterested pursuit of learning and truth.

    I would say that a degree is an investment for someone who gets a graduate job afterwards. For someone who doesn’t (in that he gets nothing but menial jobs instead of the skilled job he could have obtained by getting trained in useful skills instead) a degree is a luxury.

    So I say, let students fund the full cost of their degree by borrowing up front. Those who get graduate jobs would have much or all their debt paid off from public funds. Those who don’t would be on their own to face the court and the bailiffs.

  2. Posted 14/11/2010 at 00:51 | Permalink

    […] mais cedo dada a situação orçamental do país) também terá de ser reavaliada em Portugal: Why the student protesters are wrong. Por Amul Pandya. This week’s protests over a proposed rise in university tuition fees […]

  3. Posted 14/11/2010 at 07:02 | Permalink

    The quality of a university degree has been devalued because the costs of the degree have, in real terms, fallen so much.

    I’m a student and I’ll gladly tell any supporter of subsidised tuition that all their taxes are going to subsidised is a three year long beer drinking holiday.

  4. Posted 14/11/2010 at 17:27 | Permalink

    “. . . all their taxes are going to subsidise is a three year long beer drinking holiday.”

    They did in my day as well, save that mine lasted four years including one in Germany.

    The difference is that I had to work like a dog to get a degree (class of 1984), and in those days a degree was academically of good quality and worthy of the name, even if as welcome on the job market as a criminal record.

  5. Posted 15/11/2010 at 23:13 | Permalink

    That’s such a great picture to go with the article it’s getting quite scary here at King’s.

  6. Posted 16/11/2010 at 13:13 | Permalink

    King’s has always been quite scary

  7. Posted 23/11/2010 at 23:51 | Permalink

    Why on earth should Barry pay for Steve, Dave and Nathaniel to go to school until the age of 18? It is an outrage! Such an investment gives nothing back to the economy and doesn’t benefit Barry one bit!

  8. Posted 30/11/2010 at 20:58 | Permalink

    As a one time student I say to my peers “You quiet rightly feel angry, ill treated and aggrieved but focus these frustrations towards the right place – Your Institutions. If any raise fees then it’s a clear sign given the margins involved that they do not value their consumer, YOU!”

    For the facts : http://e-ducationalcom.blogspot.com/

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