The onset of a new year inevitably brings new political challenges. At the beginning of 2016, the political atmosphere within Britain was turbulent, encompassed by the uncertainty of the future of the European Union and the controversy surrounding far-right parties such as UKIP.
One year on and the uncertainty of the future of the EU is still an issue, despite having voted to leave. The threat of the far-right is still topical, and 2017 brings the promise of further political debate. This time, the ever-contentious issue of tuition fees has been raised yet again, with the Department of Education having announced further measures to assess the standards of education at university level.
The Department of Education has announced the introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework as a method of assessing the quality of teaching received at university. The National Student Survey, completed by students post-degree, measures the performance of each university based on overall grades. The statistics collated by the NSS are vital in constructing the university league tables which so often influence the decisions of young people as to where they would like to study. These statistics define people’s futures. The NSS will be integral to the collation of this data by the TEF, and it has been suggested that tuition fees may be hiked even higher to accommodate institutions with consistently high-achieving students.
It is easy to suggest that the burden of tuition-induced debt has little bearing on any individual’s decision to embark on a course of three or more years at university. The Government have compromised by loaning students the £9,000 per year on the premise that they will repay this money once they enter occupations with a yearly salary over £21,000. It is certainly easy to forget how much students pay for their education, but this is far from the point. £9,000 is an extortionate amount of money to pay for a year’s worth of study. Many students remain obliged to pay for their textbooks, with loans from Student Finance often having to be subsidised by parents.
Thirty years ago, there was no policy implicating young people to pay such a large sum of money just to better their chances in life. Thirty years ago, a 21-year-old could graduate with a 2:1 in Law for free. Thirty years down the line and a 21-year-old student can still graduate with a 2:1 in Law, but at the expense of £44,000 — as the average student debt suggests. Undoubtedly, British institutions are competent in providing the best education in the world, with Russell Group universities such as Cambridge, Oxford and Durham topping the university league tables year after year. Indeed, the archetypal British university experience is unlike any other. But compare our system to others in Europe, and it becomes increasingly difficult to understand the logic behind such high tuition fees.
In 2014, Germany dominated the news worldwide with its decision to abolish tuition fees. It has even been suggested that if the Max Planck Society, an elite German science institute, were to be implicated in global league tables, it would surpass both Oxford and Cambridge.
The morality of free education is a fantastic one to adopt. Free education should be a basic right. We can do much better, and we should learn from institutions such as Germany. Don’t let Theresa May’s Government hike the cost of education even further. Protest. Resist. Exercise your right to free education.