Sorry, but it is right for students to pay to go to university

The progressive case for recouping fees.

The higher education package being put together by the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, which is reported to include a possible graduate tax to meet fewer places and the demands for higher caps from universities, has brought to the fore once again the question of whether or not it is fair for students to pay for university.

My firm view is that it is, and as it happens the current system may well be fairer and less intimidating than a graduate tax paid indefinitely, as my colleague Samira Shackle has outlined in a substantial post here.

Aside from the question of whether Cable is right to seek a reduction in numbers of those going to university -- and I am far from sure he is -- it has to be acknowledged that any fees which are paid on the basis of earnings later are certainly infinitely fairer than upfront fees, which my year of students was among the last in paying.

But, as I wrote in January, to the annoyance of some:

More importantly, there is a very strong moral case for tuition fees and top-up fees: after all, there is nothing social democratic about making those people who would never consider sending their offspring to university pay through the tax system for those who do.

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James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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