How higher tuition fees will cost the government more

Ministers face a spiralling bill for loans after underestimating how many universities would charge

The hike in tuition fees is set to create a huge financial black hole because the government underestimated how many universities would charge the maximum £9,000 fees, according to a powerful committee of MPs.

A report by the Public Accounts committee suggests that the funding gap could cost the taxpayer an extra £95m a year and lead to a reduction in the number of undergraduate places. Tougher restrictions on student places will be deeply unpopular after several years of increasing competition and fewer job opportunities.

When the government lifted the cap on fees last year, ministers said that the top rate of £9,000 could only be charged in "exceptional circumstances". However, 60 out of 124 higher institutions have said they will charge the highest rate for at least some of their courses.

105 universities had declared the fee they will charge, with an average of £8,765. The government modelled its plans on an average fee of £7,500.
This means that the current balance of outstanding loans -- £24bn -- is expected to rise to £70bn by 2015-16, the report says.

This is ironic, given that reducing the deficit and solving the funding crisis in universities were the justifications for increasing fees. Lest we forget, Nick Clegg justified his U-turn on tuition fees thus:

At the time I really thought we could do it [not increase tuition fees]. I just didn't know, of course, before we came into government, quite what the state of the finances were.

So not only will the increased fees actually increase the strain on the public purse, they also fail to do anything to combat the funding crisis of higher education that motivated the Browne Review in the first place, coming as they do in conjunction with savage cuts to university budgets.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills says the full cost will not be known until September 2012, after students have received their loans. It is impossible to know whether the trebling of fees will have an impact on student demand, and how many students will waive their loans. Conversely, as my colleague George Eaton pointed out in March, the funding gap could end up being much higher.

Given the speed with which the legislation was rushed through, it is unsurprising that serious problems have surfaced. With Oxford University considering a vote of no confidence in the government's higher education policy today, waiting til freshers' week does not seem like an adequate solution.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Is there such a thing as responsible betting?

Punters are encouraged to bet responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly.

I try not to watch the commercials between matches, or the studio discussions, or anything really, before or after, except for the match itself. And yet there is one person I never manage to escape properly – Ray Winstone. His cracked face, his mesmerising voice, his endlessly repeated spiel follow me across the room as I escape for the lav, the kitchen, the drinks cupboard.

I’m not sure which betting company he is shouting about, there are just so many of them, offering incredible odds and supposedly free bets. In the past six years, since the laws changed, TV betting adverts have increased by 600 per cent, all offering amazingly simple ways to lose money with just one tap on a smartphone.

The one I hate is the ad for BetVictor. The man who has been fronting it, appearing at windows or on roofs, who I assume is Victor, is just so slimy and horrible.

Betting firms are the ultimate football parasites, second in wealth only to kit manufacturers. They have perfected the capitalist’s art of using OPM (Other People’s Money). They’re not directly involved in football – say, in training or managing – yet they make millions off the back of its popularity. Many of the firms are based offshore in Gibraltar.

Football betting is not new. In the Fifties, my job every week at five o’clock was to sit beside my father’s bed, where he lay paralysed with MS, and write down the football results as they were read out on Sports Report. I had not to breathe, make silly remarks or guess the score. By the inflection in the announcer’s voice you could tell if it was an away win.

Earlier in the week I had filled in his Treble Chance on the Littlewoods pools. The “treble” part was because you had three chances: three points if the game you picked was a score draw, two for a goalless draw and one point for a home or away win. You chose eight games and had to reach 24 points, or as near as possible, then you were in the money.

“Not a damn sausage,” my father would say every week, once I’d marked and handed him back his predictions. He never did win a sausage.

Football pools began in the 1920s, the main ones being Littlewoods and Vernons, both based in Liverpool. They gave employment to thousands of bright young women who checked the results and sang in company choirs in their spare time. Each firm spent millions on advertising. In 1935, Littlewoods flew an aeroplane over London with a banner saying: Littlewoods Above All!

Postwar, they blossomed again, taking in £50m a year. The nation stopped at five on a Saturday to hear the scores, whether they were interested in football or not, hoping to get rich. BBC Sports Report began in 1948 with John Webster reading the results. James Alexander Gordon took over in 1974 – a voice soon familiar throughout the land.

These past few decades, football pools have been left behind, old-fashioned, low-tech, replaced by online betting using smartphones. The betting industry has totally rebooted itself. You can bet while the match is still on, trying to predict who will get the next goal, the next corner, the next throw-in. I made the last one up, but in theory you can bet instantly, on anything, at any time.

The soft sell is interesting. With the old football pools, we knew it was a remote flutter, hoping to make some money. Today the ads imply that betting on football somehow enhances the experience, adds to the enjoyment, involves you in the game itself, hence they show lads all together, drinking and laughing and putting on bets.

At the same time, punters are encouraged to do it responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly. Responsibly and respect are now two of the most meaningless words in the football language. People have been gambling, in some form, since the beginning, watching two raindrops drip down inside the cave, lying around in Roman bathhouses playing games. All they’ve done is to change the technology. You have to respect that.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war