OECD’s head of education gives thumbs up to £9K tuition fee system

Endorsement comes after ministers are accused by Labour of misleading Parliament

January 22, 2015

Source: Alamy

Feasible fees? 45 per cent of student loans will never be repaid, it is estimated

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s head of education has appeared to endorse the coalition government’s £9,000 fees system, after Labour accused ministers of misleading Parliament for claiming OECD backing.

Speaking to Times Higher Education, the influential Andreas Schleicher, director of the OECD’s directorate for education and skills, acknowledged that the OECD had no data on the new system. But he said that extra costs for graduates in the £9,000 system would not outweigh the earnings benefits they would gain from study.

Greg Clark, the universities and science minister, has argued the case for £9,000 fees in the House of Commons by citing comments made by Mr Schleicher at the 2014 press launch of the Paris-based OECD’s annual report Education at a Glance, at which he described England as “one of the very few countries that has figured out a sustainable approach to higher education financing”.

But the data in the most recent 2014 edition of Education at a Glance cover the pre-2012 system only: the system inherited from the Labour government in which fees were capped at £3,375 in its last year of operation.

Chuka Umunna, Labour’s shadow business secretary, this month accused the government of “trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes by citing the OECD’s praise for the previous system, which they scrapped” and said that it “appears ministers have misled Parliament”.

Mr Clark responded by telling MPs that he had received a letter from Mr Schleicher stating that “the rise to £9,000 fees had not changed the overall assessment by the OECD”.

Asked whether the OECD had endorsed the £9,000 system, Mr Schleicher told THE: “What is very clear in the case of the UK is that the private returns from higher education are way beyond the level at which tuition fees are currently set. And that includes the £9,000 fees.”

He added: “Given that the UK has a means-tested grant system and an income-contingent loans system, we don’t see any issue with the £3,000 or the £9,000. If you think about an individual getting way over £100,000 back – more in income than what they actually spent – at tuition of £9,000 or £3,000 [that] isn’t actually making that much of a difference.”

Mr Schleicher continued: “The [OECD] data are still data from the old system. The only change that we would see between the data you have in Education at a Glance pre the change and post the change is that the cost [to graduates] side is increasing. None of the conclusions really depends on the level of tuition [fees].”

The government’s estimate of the portion of student loan outlay that will never be repaid has risen to 45 per cent. But Mr Schleicher said that the “tax income that the UK earns from those people who do pay back and do complete their degrees is so much more that I don’t even think that the non-payments are relevant in this sense”.

Liam Byrne, Labour’s shadow universities, science and skills minister, said: “This government has set university finances very firmly on the road to ruin – and that’s the conclusion of anyone and everyone who has looked at this so-called system in any detail.”

He added that “even the government’s own numbers show non-payments is a massive issue”, saying that this was “money that can’t be reinvested in years to come” and accusing Mr Clark of “hiding behind ‘comfort letters’ from Paris”.

john.morgan@tesglobal.com

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Reader's comments (1)

OECD are still totally ignoring the wider social and economic benefits that graduates offer - which in themselves justify public support for tuition costs , and enhance the view that a degree is solely as financial investment.

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

United Nations peace keeper

Understanding the unwritten rules of graduate study is vital if you want to get the most from your PhD supervision, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

Eleanor Shakespeare illustration (5 January 2017)

Fixing problems in the academic job market by reducing the number of PhDs would homogenise the sector, argues Tom Cutterham

Houses of Parliament, Westminster, government

There really is no need for the Higher Education and Research Bill, says Anne Sheppard

poi, circus

Kate Riegle van West had to battle to bring her circus life and her academic life together

man with frozen beard, Lake Louise, Canada

Australia also makes gains in list of most attractive English-speaking nations as US slips