Any proposal to solve the funding crisis by making students pay for their maintenance and tuition fees will run into opposition from millions of parents who want their families to have access to the highest possible level of education.
The argument that, as the beneficiaries of higher education, students should pay is fundamentally flawed in three respects. First, no economy can compete without an efficient mass system of higher education. As the whole of society benefits, the funds should be raised through individual and corporate taxation proportionate to income and wealth.
Second, the argument that the beneficiary should pay could not be applied to every level of education, to healthcare and to other social services. Why not charge for visits to hospital, the doctor, primary education and so on? That would eliminate the welfare state and financial status would determine the quality of service.
Third, the Australian experience shows that once fees are introduced there is inexorable pressure to charge higher fees for the elite institutions and courses such as medicine, restricting access on the basis of ability to pay as opposed to academic criteria. That would simply replicate the notoriously educationally inefficient British public school system.
Rather than alienate students and their families, many of whom voted Labour, the Government should tap the corporate sector and the wealthiest 20 per cent who prospered under 18 years of Conservative rule, to raise the funds to modernise the university system. To do otherwise could lose Tony Blair the support of that section of the electorate which will decide whether he wins a second term.
Real Solutions: The Coalition for State Funded Education
c/o Sheffield University Students Union