University of Cambridge

Richard Taylor’s View on Undergraduate Tuition Fees

Richard Taylor, Independent, Cambridge UK talking about why tuition fees ought be scrapped.

Approximate transcript:
I am passionately opposed to undergraduate tuition fees for UK students doing their first degrees. I think that access to university education ought be on merit, access to university should not be limited to those prepared pay huge fees or get into enormous debt. I also oppose a graduate tax; students shouldn’t be deterred from going to university, considering if that decision might end up costing them dearly for the rest of their lives.

As with many other areas of the public sector the Labour government has pumped huge sums of, in this case public money, and students money, into universities. The big thing this has bought is a huge increase in the number of young people going to university. While I too want to see as many young people as possible going to university — simply expanding the number of places is not in my view the right way to go about it. We’ve got a situation where we’re aiming to get 50% of young people to go to university yet less than 50% get 5 A-C GCSEs. We need to focus on improving education for younger people before we’ve got a base on which to justify such high levels of university education.

It’s important to keep hold of what’s made UK university education great, and what’s made it such a valuable export commodity if we’re going to be able to keep bringing in money from abroad by selling access to it. If we’re going to keep the quality of UK higher education high we need to keep the entry standards high. We also need to keep university education closely related to cutting edge research. University is not just an extension of school. Good quality education isn’t necessarily expensive to provide in many subjects.

Tuition fees were expected to drive up standards in universities; this didn’t happen. Making students “consumers” didn’t work; I think what we need to do is strengthen students’ unions. We need to ensure that students, and staff at universities are free to speak out and free to keep standards high at their institutions.

Many people point to the high cost of undergraduate education at Cambridge University as small group supervisions are very expensive. If graduate researchers, those working towards PhDs were employed (rather than receiving a tax free studentship) and as part of their contract were required to teach that would help enormously as well as solve a wide range of other problems in one go. I think the link between teaching and research ought start at the level of graduate researchers.

High levels of personal debt are a real problem in the UK; massive societal effects as people can’t afford to buy homes, can’t afford to start families. There is a huge imbalance in society with so many younger people in debt, living in inadequate homes, and not being able to live the lives they want to lead. Funding university tuition fully out of general taxation is one way we can help address those problems.

I see scrapping tuition fees as being about investing in young people, investing in the future of the UK and preparing us to compete in the world in the long term.

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