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28 January 2010

The left-wing case for tuition fees

Why should the poor pay for the wealthier?

By James Macintyre


There is a mini-fuss raging today over fresh figures showing that, in the words of the Daily Mail, the “middle classes” are being “put off” university by the prospect of higher fees of up to £3,000 per year.

From the Mail:

The most recent figures from the Higher Education Funding Council for England showed applications for university places among students in wealthier areas are rising more slowly than in lower-income groups.

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In 2005/06, as the higher fees approached, attendance at university rose 2 to 3 per cent for middle- and higher-income groups but 4 per cent among the most disadvantaged.

Well, forgive me, but I am glad that applications from lower-income groups are, to turn the formula on its head, rising more quickly than those from less well-off ones.

When I went to university, we were required to pay upfront. Now that the fees are to be paid later on and at a rate that depends on what the graduate is earning, the system is much less intimidating.

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.