Tuition fee increase will hit middle-income graduates

Putting tuition fees up to £7,000 will leave middle-income graduates repaying up to £15,000 more tha

There has been concern expressed that raising tuition fees will deter students from applying to university, but new research suggests that a potential cutback on subsidised interest for student loans is where the real danger lies.

A report from the Social Market Foundation (SMF) has found that the proposed rise in tuition fees will leave middle-income graduates with much larger debts than their higher-paid contemporaries, as the increased fees bill will result in the government being forced to withdraw subsidised interest rates for student loans.

If, as expected, Lord Browne's review of university fees and finances (due for publication on October 11) recommends lifting the cap on tuition fees from its current level at £3,290 to £7,000, the SMF research finds that the rise in fees will cost the government an additional £1.3bn a year under the current arrangement of subsidised interest rates on student loans.

As this is obviously unsustainable, the research predicts that interest rate subsidies and loan write-offs would have to be abolished in favour of commercial rates, which would penalise those middle-income graduates who take longer to pay back the entirety of their loan. The SMF estimates that it could leave some graduates paying back up to £15,000 more than their higher-earning counterparts, even if they originally did the same degree at the same university.

In addition to the students and graduates who look likely to suffer under tuition fee increases, this issue is shaping up to be a major political challenge for the coalition. The publication of Lord Browne's review on October 11 will be the first major test of its unity, for as my colleague Samira Shackle pointed out last week, opposing such an increase in the debt burden on students has long been a central policy for the Lib Dems. Their response to the publication of Lord Browne's review will be a key indicator of how things stand within their party, and quite how long we might expect the coalition to hold up in its current form.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

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How to think about the EU result if you voted Remain

A belief in democracy means accepting the crowd is wiser than you are as an individual. 

I voted Remain, I feel sick about this result and its implications for what’s to come. But I’m a believer in democracy. This post is about how to reconcile those two things (it’s a bit unstructured because I’m working it out as I go, and I’m not sure I agree with all of it).

Democracy isn’t just fairer than other systems of governance, it’s smarter. It leads to better decisions and better outcomes, on average and over the long run, than countries that are run by autocrats or councils of wise men with jobs for life. It is simply the best way we have yet devised of solving complex problems involving many people. On that topic, if you’re not averse to some rather dense and technical prose, read this post or seek out this book. But the central argument is that democracy is the best way of harnessing ‘cognitive diversity’ — bringing to bear many different perspectives on a problem, each of which are very partial in themselves, but add up to something more than any one wise person.

I don’t think you can truly be a believer in democracy unless you accept that the people, collectively, are smarter than you are. That’s hard. It’s easy to say you believe in the popular will, right up until the popular will does something REALLY STUPID. The hard thing is not just to ‘accept the result’ but to accept that the majority who voted for that result know or understand something better than you. But they do. You are just one person, after all, and try as you might to expand your perspective with reading (and some try harder than others) you can’t see everything. So if a vote goes against you, you need to reflect on the possibility you got it wrong in some way. If I look at the results of past general elections and referendums, for instance, I now see they were all pretty much the right calls, including those where I voted the other way.

One way to think about the vote is that it has forced a slightly more equitable distribution of anxiety and alienation upon the country. After Thursday, I feel more insecure about my future, and that of my family. I also feel like a foreigner in my own country — that there’s this whole massive swathe of people out there who don’t think like me at all and probably don’t like me. I feel like a big decision about my life has been imposed on me by nameless people out there. But of course, this is exactly how many of those very people have been feeling for years, and at a much higher level of intensity. Democracy forces us to try on each other’s clothes. I could have carried on quite happily ignoring the unhappiness of much of the country but I can’t ignore this.

I’m seeing a lot of people on Twitter and in the press bemoaning how ill-informed people were, talking about a ‘post-factual democracy’. Well, maybe, though I think that requires further investigation - democracy has always been a dirty dishonest business. But surely the great thing about Thursday that so many people voted — including many, many people who might have felt disenfranchised from a system that hasn’t been serving them well. I’m not sure you’re truly a democrat if you don’t take at least a tiny bit of delight in seeing people so far from the centres of power tipping the polity upside down and giving it a shake. Would it have been better or worse for the country if Remain had won because only informed middle-class people voted? It might have felt better for people like me, it might actually have been better, economically, for everyone. But it would have indicated a deeper rot in our democracy than do the problems with our national information environment (which I accept are real).

I’m not quite saying ‘the people are always right’ — at least, I don’t think it was wrong to vote to stay in the EU. I still believe we should have Remained and I’m worried about what we’ve got ourselves into by getting out. But I am saying they may have been right to use this opportunity — the only one they were given — to send an unignorable signal to the powers-that-be that things aren’t working. You might say general elections are the place for that, but our particular system isn’t suited to change things on which there is a broad consensus between the two main parties.

Ian Leslie is a writer, author of CURIOUS: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It, and writer/presenter of BBC R4's Before They Were Famous.