Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Cameron's 'historic' speech proves he's the latest leader to lose control of his party over Europe (Independent)

The Prime Minister's chaotic approach will leave him even more at the mercy of events and his party’s willful insurrectionaries, writes Steve Richards.

2. Blair has failed in the Middle East and should quit (Daily Telegraph)

It’s easy to see what the former Labour prime minister gets out of his role as Middle East envoy, but harder to see what he gives back, says Peter Oborne.

3. Banks and bonuses: gaming the public (Guardian)

George Osborne suggested he could withhold government work from miscreant banks - now it is time for action, says a Guardian editorial.

4. Even if everything’s free, there can be a price (Times) (£)

The death of hacker Aaron Swartz reveals a young generation unaware of its own great power – or responsibilities, writes David Aaronovitch.

5. Are ministers too scared to say what they know about the next wave of migrants? (Daily Mail)

In refusing to disclose the number of migrants expected to arrive from Romania and Bulgaria, the government is treating us like children, says Stephen Glover.

6. Hong Kong sees the light through a haze (Financial Times)

The city is finally addressing its pollution problem but is not going far enough, says David Pilling.

7. Referring Syria to the international criminal court is a justified gamble (Guardian)

An international criminal court investigation may split the United Nations – but it would change the civil war's political dynamics, writes Philippe Sands.

8. Battle lines drawn in Whitehall’s phoney war (Daily Telegraph)

There’s always tension between ministers and mandarins, but strong leaders see it through, says Sue Cameron.

9. The west must plan for an arc of uncertainty (Independent)

The collapse of the state in a nuclear Pakistan is a prospect that must be addressed, says an Independent editorial.

10. Ending the culture of US gun violence (Financial Times)

Obama must try to break the NRA’s grip on national politics, says an FT editorial.

Paul Marotta
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England is now a more expensive place to study than the US. Why?

Is a university education in this country really worth £44,000, and how does our system compare to higher education funding elsewhere?

England has long sneered at American universities and their exorbitant fees. It cannot do so any longer: England is now a more expensive country to study than the US, and is easily the most expensive of eight Anglophone countries – the four UK nations, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US – analysed in a new Sutton Trust report. English students graduating from last year left university with an average of £44,000 in debt £15,000 more than Americans studying at for-profit universities across the pond.

Why do English students have it so much worse than other students in the UK? There are two answers. The first is the government's decision in 2010 to shift much of the cost of university from the general taxpayer to the beneficiaries: the students themselves. The second answer is devolution. The devolved governments in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have made political choices to differentiate themselves from Westminster by prioritising keeping fees down – even when, as in Scotland, the effect is to benefit middle-class students at the expense of disadvantaged ones. Students in Wales who study in England are eligible for generous grants, meaning they pay less than £4,000 a year rather than up to £9,000. Those studying in Northern Ireland have their fees capped at £3,925. 

Even England's £9,000 fees are puny set against those at elite American universities. In 2016/17 annual, tuition fees at Harvard are $59,550 and, when all else is accounted for, Harvard reckon each year costs students $88,600. But such exorbitant numbers are not the real story. About 60% of Harvard students receive the Harvard Scholarship: a microcosm of how US students benefit from a culture of graduates giving endowents to their old universities that is still lacking in England. Scholarships and bursaries at universities in the US are far more generous than in other countries. And those who go to public universities within their own state pay far less: those graduating after four years leave with an average debt of only US$27,100 [£19,100]. This is why the average debt of US graduates is now considerably less than in England. But those who berate that even America now has a more benign system for students than England should not be so hasty. The majority of US loans are not income contingent, meaning that low earners who are already struggling still have to pay.

Governments throughout the world are grappling with how to fund send an increasing proportion of students to university in an era of austerity. In the last two decades at least 14 countries in the OECD, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK, have implemented major reforms to fees, according to the Sutton Trust. In general these reforms have led to students paying a greater share of the cost of their tuition. 

So in a sense what has happened in England is merely an extreme example of an international trend. And the introduction of tuition fees in 1998, which have been hiked up twice since, has been managed better than most acknowledge: indeed, the proportion of disadvantaged students at university has actually risen by one-fifth since tuition fees rose to £9,000.

But, with the poorest students in England now graduating with £50,000 in debt, more students will be driven to ask whether a university education is really worth it. For a small but significant minority, it isn’t. A recent IFS report found that male graduates from 23 low performing institutions – though it sadly declined to name them - earn less, on average, than those who do not go to university, and end up with huge debt to boot.

No matter how expensive a university education has become, not having one is even more expensive. Throughout the world demand for university education continues to soar; in England the average graduate premium is £200,000 over a lifetime. Yet too many dunce universities are saddling students with debt without giving them anything in return.    

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.