From the off, let me say that I do firmly believe that
education should be free at the point of use. It should be based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay. Nursery, primary school, high school even college should all state funded. But, I do not think this should extend to Universities.
More on that later but for now let’s look at the opening of an Office for Students that was announced by the UK Government this week. The new regulator will rank universities based on student satisfaction, teaching quality and employment outcomes with the universities that receive high ratings will be allowed to increase their tuition fees by the rate of inflation.
The important part of the OfS remit for me will be the student satisfaction bit. More and more these days service providers are being forced into being more responsive to the customers needs – students are customers and Universities are service providers.
In 2013/14 there were 152, 460 students undertaking their first degree in Scotland. If you set a fee cap of, say, £5,000 per year that would give you £762.3m. According to the draft Scottish Budget figures published in October the cost of tuition fees within the Higher Education Student Support (HESS) budget is £301.5m within an overall HESS budget of £970.3m.
However, to be allowed to charge the full fee cap Universities must demonstrate they’ve listened to students and reacted to their needs. Universities should have to put forward a (business) proposal to the OfS (or OfSScotland if you will) which demonstrates they’ve taken into account current and future need, they are reflecting student suggestions (through open consultation perhaps?) and having done all this they come to tuition fee £XX.
The OfSScotland considers the merits of the business proposal and makes a final decision on tuition fees. This fee structure is then in place for a four year period. Obviously some students will cross fee periods however what they will always have is the chance to shape what they get back from this fee beyond a bit of paper at the end of four years.
Obviously a bit of work is needed to work this into full policy, and there are undoubtedly aspects of student support that would need to be considered alongside this, so perhaps we’ll revisit this idea with more detail as we move towards the election in May.
But as ideas go, when the Scottish parties look at ways of funding a ballooning health budget without making people pay more taxes they don’t want and engaging people in politics from a younger age, I don’t think this one is half bad.
What better way of getting kids involved in shaping their future than making those they’re seeking to influence accountable to them?
To return to the view that we should pay university tuition fees, after 18 years of state investment in your education is it too much to ask someone to invest in themselves and pay towards the cost of their professional qualification?