A Roadmap for Free Education argues that higher education could be funded by collective public investment through progressive taxation. Under the plans, the richest in society would see their tax increase to cost of the university system.
The union also believes that even a modest increase in revenue from businesses being channelled into higher education would help to remove the cost burden from students, the government and the taxpayer. Forcing debt onto students as a way of funding universities was “a failed experiment”, the union says, and is urging the government to put the restoration of public funding to universities in its general election manifesto.
“Not only is a publicly funded education system achievable, it’s also necessary in the current economic and political climate,” said Megan Dunn, NUS vice-president for higher education. “The government’s own figures show that the prospect of a huge black hole looming over the budget is very real. It’s time the government started taking this issue seriously and committed to a new deal for students.”
According to government figures, the size of outstanding student debt could increase to more than £330 billion by 2044. Current estimates suggest ministers will have to write off 45 per cent of the £10 billion it spends on student loans each year, and the threshold at which experts calculate that the government will lose more money than it would have saved by keeping the old £3,000 tuition fee cap is 48.6 per cent.
The NUS roadmap also includes a direct “challenge to vice-chancellors”, urging them to speak out against the reforms to higher education funding implemented by the coalition government.
“This is our message to vice-chancellors: don’t be fooled into thinking that the problems in higher education can be solved by passing off even more of the costs to students,” the report says. “Uncapping fees and unleashing the market is an incredible gamble to take, especially when the current system is already unable to cope. The evidence below explains why we believe such a gamble will not pay off, and why we feel the higher education sector is selling itself short if it fails to stand up and fight for free education.”
Writing in the publication, NUS president Toni Pearce says: “In 2084, 70 years from now, the great grandchildren of today’s young people will look back on the decisions we make and either thank us for our courage in giving free education to the people, or forever condemn us for allowing the tragedy of fees, loans and debt to continue.”