According to a report in the Times, (29 January 2015) Robert Preston of the BBC has indicated that Labour is considering announcing a policy that will see current tuition fees cut by a third to £6,000. Not surprisingly, simply the prospect of this announcement, which has not yet been formally issued by the party leadership, has given rise to a growing debate across the HE sector, with strong views being expressed by opponents and supporters of such a policy.
Labour, as supporters of the policy change being suggested, are likely to argue that it will have the benefit of increasing accessibility to higher education for students from lower income families, and thus would improve equality in opportunity for learning. Furthermore, it may also be argued the policy could result in future economic benefits for the UK by providing greater numbers of qualified employees. Labour suggest that the loss in tutition fees is likely to be counterbalanced by a reduction in the levels of student loans being granted and the balance outstanding. All good news for students one might think. However, before getting carried away by the positive side of this debate one has to consider the counter argument.
Opponents of the proposed fee reduction policy argue that it could cost higher education establishments up to £2 billion per annum in lost revenue. If this is the case, then one has to ask how colleges and universities are going to raise the required resources to cater for the suggested increase in the number of student admissions. To counteract the potential loss in revenues colleges and universities, in theory they have to increase student admissions by a third. It is unlikely that many colleges/universities would have access to the available practical and HR resources to be able to support such an increase. The alternative, of course, is that these institutions would look to increase the number of foreign student intake, as their financial contribution is already estimated at over twice that of their UK counterparts. This latter option would have an adverse impact on the numbers of UK students accepted, and therefore reduce access and opportunity for domestic learning. Consequently, the proposed Labour higher education policy change would fail to achieve its objectives.
Labour politicians need to think carefully before committing to a policy which, according to reports, seems to be radical in nature. They should consider the challenges that are likely to result from such a change as well as the benefits. Equally, it is important for policymakers to not make promises that they cannot deliver as voters are sufficiently astute to recognise the difference. What are your views?