Monday, December 13, 2010

Another critique of tuition fees

The problem with the Internet is that for nearly all topics, something is available out there that does a better job than one own's efforts could achieve. This new post at the excellent Exquisite Life blog does a great job of the criticizing the dire state of higher education policy in the UK, and should be mandatory reading for anyone who wants to engage with the associated debate. The main focus of the article is on the failure of the tuition fees to fix the fiscal problems that supposedly motivated them, and it also explains the flaws in the arguments that the fees regime is more “progressive” than the current one.

The Campaign for the Public University (which I also found out about via the Exquisite Life blog) has a collection of articles and resources on the topic.


Anonymous said...

An econo-critique, not necessarily a criticism:

Perhaps the hybrid "tuition tax" proposed by the government achieves a reasonable balance of the incentives both for universities and students?

On the other hand, why is reducing the number of students (say, from 45% down to 30% of the population) not an option? Who's afraid of that and why?

Paul Goldberg said...

Thanks, I read the stumblingandmumbling blog fairly frequently but had not yet seen this post. And to answer your questions -

Maybe the proposed "tuition tax" achieves the right balance of incentives. My favorite objections are more pragmatic than principled - it's likely to cause a brain drain, and it looks like an attempt to move towards the USA and away from the EU, despite the fact that EU nations are our main trading partners, and we are culturally similar to them. The tuition fees may be a hindrance to student mobility within the EU.

I'd be happy with the reduction from 45% to 30% student participation - the previous Govt's support for 50% participation never seemed very well-motivated.

Anonymous said...

I wonder what university education participation rates are in the EU then, compared to the UK's (or England's?) 45%. Perhaps a reason we "cannot afford" having university education funded in the way our EU cousins do is that we are too ambitious about the participation rate?

Does the Browne report even try to compare our HE funding system with those practised in the EU countries? Does it consider changes to the participation rate, and argue why it should (not) be changed?

Paul Goldberg said...

Take a look at the bar chart in this article — even before the cuts, our public spend is weak in comparison with other nations. We're ahead of Italy, and the comparison of total spend with Germany looks good... until you remember Germany's higher GDP. The Browne review does do some international comparisons (see pages 15,16); page 16 compares our participation rate with other countries and we are about average. Page 17 mentions that other countries are increasing their total spend on higher education.

That part of the Browne review commits the fallacy of arguing that because graduates earn a premium, we should raise the participation rate. However, suppose 99% of people went to university. The 1% who didn't would still earn less on average (assuming they had failed to qualify somehow) but this graduate premium then starts to look somewhat suspect.