Not such a bargain after all

June 3, 2010

I see the Russell Group are now quoting a figure of £160,000 in increased lifetime earnings for their graduates, in order to justify increasing their tuition fees.

There must be some difficulty in financial forecasting for 40 years ahead, but I worry about the basis of this calculation. The largest cost of a degree is the loss of earnings of undergraduates compared with their contemporaries who go straight into work. Even if those contemporaries earn only near the minimum wage over three years, that figure must be of the order of £36,000. Adding the cost of tuition fees to that makes the true cost of a degree around £46,000. The return on that sum invested at a modest 3.5 per cent for 40 years is around £190,000 - rather a better return than £160,000 and less risky.

Now clearly this calculation is open to criticism on many counts. But it's no more specious than the Russell Group's calculation, and they will have to provide better service to students to justify any increases in fees.

Ormond Simpson, Fellow, University of London Centre for Distance Education.

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