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Is the UK right to charge its students for higher education? Show more Show less

Just over twenty years ago, higher education was free in the UK for any student who secured a place on a university course. Flash forward to today and students graduate with an average debt of £50,000. Critics claim this is wildly unfair and inhibits social mobility. Others claim that high fees improve equality. With both sides aiming to reduce inequality, why do the positions on implementing fees and reducing grants contradict each other?
University education should be free for all to access. Education is a human right. The state has a duty to fund free higher education in its annual budget.
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We should keep higher education free to improve social mobility.

Charging for education excludes those who cannot pay for it.

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Context

A main argument for keeping higher education free is that it enables everyone to participate. In 1962, a new policy was implemented in the UK whereby higher education would be paid for by the state, and no longer be reserved for the upper classes (and the lucky few who earned a scholarship) [1]. The decision was seen to be a continuation of free secondary education, and aimed to make 18+ education more widely available.

The Argument

The essence of this argument is simple; if you do not have to pay for higher education, low income is no longer a barrier to accessing it. By reducing the costs you make education accessible to everyone, not just the wealthiest in society. In this way, the natural benefits of the biggest earners in society are mitigated, because their ability to pay for education is no longer relevant. Furthermore, free higher education also reduces the disparity between students whilst at university. Currently, many students struggle to balance part-time work alongside their studies. The result is that their wealthier peers have more free time or may attain higher grades as they have longer to work on assignments. If university was free, then this inequality would no longer exist.

Counter arguments

Few can deny that this argument is in any way flawed, however, many have noted that it is too idealistic and is more of a theoretical argument than a practical one.

Premises

P1. Charging for education makes higher education inaccessible or less enjoyable for those from poorer backgrounds. P2. In this way, charging for education discriminates against those from economically deprived backgrounds. P3. Therefore, charging for higher education promotes inequality.

Rejecting the premises

The premise is not rejected, but regarded as an abstract ideal rather than a sensible, functioning policy.

References

  1. http://www.historyandpolicy.org/policy-papers/papers/university-fees-in-historical-perspective

Proponents

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This page was last edited on Wednesday, 4 Dec 2019 at 15:07 UTC