Comment writer Zoe Olukoga considers where the voice of opposition comes from today, and how necessary it isWritten by Redbrick on 18th February 2017
Government Will Not Listen on Tuition Fees
Comment writer, Madeleine Bourne, critiques the government's secret announcement of tuition fee rises
Just last week, BBC News outed the government’s plans to increase tuition fees in England’s universities to an even more extortionate £9,250 per year. This move has been discussed for months and equally has angered students for months, but now the rise has officially been launched, albeit in an attempt to ensconce such detrimental plans. BBC News revealed that although these plans are officially in progress, there was no official announcement from the Department for Education whatsoever.
The plan to increase tuition fees in line with inflation each year will affect more than 500,000 students as of Autumn 2017. The initial increase is sign-posted at £9,250, of which almost all universities can take part in. Also, if universities want to apply the higher fee to existing students alongside new students, they are able to do so. Many people, MPs and students alike, are against the plans and were awaiting the published bid from the Department for Education so that they could scrutinise the current Government’s move.
However, seemingly in a ‘shabby’ attempt to avoid such scrutiny on the matter, the regulations to enable a university to charge these higher fees were published on 15th December without it being announced officially on the Department for Education’s website. Instead, the bid was placed on another government website managed by the National Archives, http://www.legislation.gov.uk. This update also came on the day that school league tables were published; the classic spin doctor’s method of hiding a negative story with a popular announcement.
“Sadly, this sounds a little bit like wishful thinking on the government’s part
Labour’s Gordon Marsden attacked the government for trying to ‘sneak out’ their plans, calling it the ‘increase that doesn’t like to speak its name’. Marsden was quick to say that ‘they are hell-bent on keeping this increase as low-profile as possible as it’s piling up debts on students’. Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron, said of the debacle: ‘this shows the government at their worst, avoiding scrutiny and debate.’
In response, the Department for Education has released a statement reminding that the higher tuition fees will only be applicable if a university can prove that the quality of teaching at the institution is high enough: ‘Importantly, universities will not be able to increase their fees unless they have passed rigorous quality standards’. Strangely enough, this doesn’t seem enough of a consolation for the millions of students currently studying at universities up and down the country, and may very well deter prospective students from applying. For many choosing a university, the Russell Group status of an institution proves its worth and excellence. The quality of teaching that is evident at Russell Group universities such as the University of Birmingham is something that draws a lot of prospective students in. However, if these universities are suddenly able to charge higher fees, then it could become a prominent deciding factor in choosing where to study.
The Department for Education’s statement also reported that ‘we are determined to make sure that everyone with the potential to benefit from higher education has the opportunity to do so’. Sadly, this sounds a little bit like wishful thinking on the government’s part. The price of fees as they stand has already deterred some astute and promising peers I know from going to university. So, if the fees increase each year in line with inflation, the government are single-handedly limiting prospective students’ chances of going to the right university to get themselves into a well-paid, fulfilling career. Money should not be a deciding factor in choosing an institution to study at.
“the Department for Education has rejected the idea that it wanted to deflect attention from the increase, and universities have argued that the increase in tuition fees needs to happen to ensure financial stability
Sometimes universities can feel as if they’re commercial conglomerates waiting to take your every penny, whilst smiling slyly and clasping their hands in glee in the process. And sometimes the government can appear like the village idiot in their attempts to sweep unwanted announcements under the carpet. But, the Department for Education has rejected the idea that it wanted to deflect attention from the increase, and universities have argued that the increase in tuition fees needs to happen to ensure financial stability. So, regardless of the government’s opposition and us students protesting, it’s going to happen anyway. Great.