Fees, debt and uncertain values 1

October 6, 2006

I am still puzzled as to why the introduction of top-up fees should make so much difference to our culture (Features, September 29).

Universities have always received fees for students, but hitherto they have been invisible as far as students are concerned because they came from local education authorities, as most of the fee still will.

A simple comparison with overseas students' fees, which are probably nearer full cost, shows that the top-up fee will be only 20-25 per cent of the total. So, if we talk about the effect of markets, a more appropriate analogy would be a sale in which all goods were reduced by 75 per cent. How many of us in such a situation expect much if we are unlucky in our bargain?

The fundamental problems lie elsewhere - in a system where the research assessment exercise values research more highly than teaching and university teachers are not paid salaries that might reflect their value to the economy. This is where the true market forces operate today by steadily reducing the incentives for a younger generation to do the same as their parents, brought up on ideals of public service and giving something back to the community in return for what you have been given. Don't those ideals seem rather quaint today?

David Thompson.
Cambridge

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