Yes – Joe Waters
I am English. I pay £9,250 a year for my tuition, and I come from a disadvantaged background. The thing is, though, I love tuition fees. The reason I believe it would be beneficial for Scots to pay is the same reason that I’m entirely happy paying fees myself. Simply put, tuition fees, although not perfect, enable thousands of disadvantaged people like me a better chance at university, ensures universities are sustainably and substantially funded and are very much justified in terms of society as a whole.
“Straight A” Scottish students, regardless of background, find it harder to get into Scottish universities than their counterparts in the rest of the UK, even with the same grades. This isn’t a conscious act of discrimination by Scottish universities, but rather a by-product of free tuition. Free tuition mandates that a cap on the number of “free” places must be put in place by the Scottish Government, otherwise the system would be unaffordable. The result of this is that universities will inevitably have to choose between two fantastic students as they only have space for one. Simply put, the places Scottish universities have for “free” places is limited and lower than the amount of well-qualified students applying, meaning that well-qualified students will inevitably miss out.
The fallout from this issue, like many things, hits the most disadvantaged the hardest. This is because grades only tell half the story of a student’s application. If a Scottish admissions department has two straight-A applications and must choose between them, with one demonstrating years’ worth of cultural capital in the form of extra-reading and summer courses, and the other lacking that, the university admissions office generally will have to choose the former rather than the latter application. This is a massive problem because, as I can certainly tell you from experience, trying to compete with that amount of extra-curricular stuff when you have to spend all your free time working from 16-18 is pretty bloody difficult.
This is why fees are such a good thing for disadvantaged students (and all students in general). Universities can now say to themselves that “both Person X and Y are good enough for our course, and both will pay us the resources to teach them, therefore we can accept both of them.” It’s not like fees are unaffordable either. I can tell you probably the most satisfying conversation to ever have is explaining to someone for the first time that “student debt” isn’t really crippling or unaffordable at all.
Also, the personal earnings benefit you get from having a degree far outweighs the minuscule payments you make to the Loans Company month on month. Better still, if you don’t benefit enough to earn above £25,000 a year, you don’t have to pay them back at all – it’s not like Theresa May is going to kick down your door and repossess your house if you can’t pay the fees. In essence, the English tuition fee system is government-subsidised education by another name. It’s more of a graduate tax than a punitive burden of debt.
Further, free tuition forces non-students to pay for higher education through their taxes, regardless of whether they would benefit from it. Sure, the nation needs doctors and lawyers, but these represent a small number of graduates. It is simply unjustifiable to expect non-graduate workers to pay towards education which many of them will see little or no benefit from. Why should working men and women subsidise the degrees of privileged St Andrews students? As valuable as my Classical Studies degree might be to me, it certainly isn’t valuable to the vast majority of people.
Now, fees aren’t perfect; there are some changes I would make to them. Ardent supporters of the current fee system assume falsely that the money from fees goes solely to good causes. What has happened is that executive salaries have exploded and a significant amount of fees line the pockets of educational executives rather than going into research, teaching, and enhancing the university experience. I would regulate this, and I think the newly created Office for Students is a step in the right direction. However, generally speaking, fees benefit students like me and universities such as ours to no end, and that’s why I believe Scottish students should pay tuition fees. They do not act as a barrier to entry into university, the system of repayment is very lenient and generous and, ultimately, they improve our nation.
No – Archie Batra
My hatred of all things Scottish is, of course, absolutely limitless, but even I must begrudgingly admit that I’m a wee bit envious of the fact that Scottish students don’t pay a single penny for their tuition. Whilst I have to look at eye-watering amounts of money going towards my four-year residential holiday, I do occasionally wish that I wasn’t leaving with a near £40,000 albatross around my neck.
Don’t worry, I’m told: it’s not really £40,000 of debt, merely £40,000 that will be slowly and methodically removed from my payslips for the next few decades of my life in a benign graduate tax. Oh, joy! I didn’t realise we were in the business of punishing those who dare to go to university.
But this egregious pile of debt (which is, at the end of the day, what it factually is) does not only pose problems for the individuals it supposedly benefits. Sure, we might not have to pay it all back if we don’t end up earning enough, but someone (i.e. the government) has to; it doesn’t just disappear, as much as we’d like it to. And so, what started as a big, money-saving exercise is now dragging on the taxpayer, as hundreds of thousands of students will never pay back the entirety of their loan. At least Scotland has cut out the middle man, and explicitly laid the responsibility of paying for higher education at the feet of the taxpayer.
And nor is this a bad thing. Higher education should be considered a right in the 21st Century, and it’s good that Scotland recognises this and frees its people from having to pay for their education. At least Scottish students know for a fact that their (in)ability to pay for their higher education will never be brought into consideration when they apply for their places at university: the only thing that will count will be their ability, dedication, and intelligence, as it should be. Any attempt to introduce fees in Scotland would only seek to undermine this.
But not only is higher education a right, it is increasingly becoming a necessity for success in the modern world. Despite political uncertainty, record numbers of both Scottish and English students are enrolling at university, and almost three quarters of them will graduate with at least a 2:1, whether they deserve to or not. (See the Higher Education Statistics Agency for the rather disconcerting proof – as well as Dundee University’s suspicious amount of firsts.) The fact of the matter is that employers are increasingly expecting potential employees to have a degree as a matter of course, as opposed to an asset that will distinguish you from the graduate horde.
The labour arena is a tough one, and it seems cruel to deprive Scottish students of one of the minimum requirements for it. Having an undergraduate degree is almost a requirement for mediocrity, let alone success, and it is thus appropriate that the Scottish Government tries to make university as widely available as possible.
I also don’t believe that introducing tuition fees is the only way to improve the resources available to universities. The supposed boon they bring to higher education through a large cash injection already gets transferred onto the taxpayer in the form of delinquent loan payments, so why not bite the bullet and increase taxation to fund universities? A hypothecated university tax would not only make the process of funding universities much simpler, but it would also allow people to see exactly how much money is going towards tertiary education.
But, ultimately, the biggest reason why Scottish students shouldn’t have to pay tuition fees is that the Scottish people don’t want them to. Scotland’s devolved parliament abolished them in 2000, when I was still but a wee bairn, and no political party has seriously challenged this in the 19 years since. The Scottish National Party (SNP) are staunchly against tuition fees and, lo and behold, the Scots are quite happy with that and keep voting them in. Any attempt to re-introduce them in Scotland would therefore be profoundly undemocratic, not to mention wildly unpopular. There are people of voting age who are too young to remember tuition fees existing in Scotland, let alone be affected by them: why would they vote for it?
Thus, I really can’t see a good, compelling reason to introduce tuition fees in Scotland. Jockland’s universities punch far above their weight in national and international league tables without them, the current system is a fair one, and, quite simply, the Scots don’t want tuition fees to be reintroduced. Why can’t the English let the Scots have nice things, for once?