As a former university student I suppose I have a rather biased view of this topic, but I think that even looking at it from the opposite side, I can see an easier way around it than at present.
THE CASE FOR FREE EDUCATION
There’s something about education, and not just university education, which I think is special. It’s the rounded, holistic development of the person which it should give us that is much more than the academic education it provides. Moving away, living on a campus and being thrust into a different social situation gives us far more of an education at a young age than almost anything else. Social skills are something that money can’t buy.
In the UK, we’re privileged to have a free education system until we’re 18 years old. It may not be as good as private education, and working in state school I have to agree broadly with that, but it’s here and it’s free.
The Government tell us that a university education is something to aspire to and will benefit us as well as the country. So why should we pay for it? We have free healthcare (the NHS), so why not education if it is so good for everyone? (And by free I mean that we don’t pay any more than we already pay in taxes.)
The least wealthy pupils already get some form of grant and there are student loans available for everyone. So does telling everyone, or even some to pay, discriminate against those from wealthier backgrounds? Everyone should be treated equally because the opportunities and benefits are there for everyone.
THE CASE AGAINST FREE EDUCATION
If university educated people earn more money, some people say that they should pay more towards it. This would only be fair, otherwise those who don’t attend university would be paying for something they’d never receive; and with a greater chance of earning less money, they’d suffer the greater financial burden.
Universities are huge businesses and put money into different courses and research. Someone has to pay for this and the burden is too great for the state to bear. In this case, it’s only fair that the people involved share the cost.
Far from appealing to everyone, university education is really only open to those from wealthier backgrounds. Does this mean that not everyone has the same opportunity, or just that those from wealthier families bring in more money for the universities themselves? Surely everyone should have the same chance to go to university and this means making it financially possible charging those who can afford it.
THE WAY AROUND IT
The way I see it is that if someone goes to university and they have to pay for it, the money should be claimed back through taxation rather than paid up front in grants and loans. This could be done by adding an extra percent to income tax for graduates; this way, the more they earn, the more they pay back. And it’s a system I wouldn’t have a problem with.
But there are problems when the government believe a university student only needs a few thousand pounds to live on in terms of grants and loans, but allow universities to charge a lot more in tuition fees. There needs to be a fair method for determining fees which is reasonable for everyone.