Wednesday 8 December 2010

Has Michael Gove revealed the real thinking behind the fees hike?

Will the government's fees hike put some potential students, especially those from poorer backgrounds off? Many people have worried about that.

But what about those who rather hope the fees hike will put potential students off?

Such as the current Education Secretary Michael Gove, if we are to judge by what he wrote up as his views for the Times before entering Parliament back in 2003 - arguing that £21,000 or more in fees is "a bargain", that anybody who is deterred is simply too stupid to go to a top university, and that the only vision for Britain's universities he believes in is to privatise them.

The Government is about to introduce a new test for those considering a university career. The central question will be punishingly direct. Do you want to run up a debt of £21,000 in order to go to the best British universities? Some people will, apparently, be put off applying to our elite institutions by the prospect of taking on a debt of this size. Which, as far as I’m concerned, is all to the good.

The first point that needs to be made about the so-called deterrent effect of a £21,000 loan is that anyone put off from attending a good university by fear of that debt doesn’t deserve to be at any university in the first place. Incurring such a relatively small debt to pay for the huge economic benefit conferred by proper higher education is a fantastic deal. Over a lifetime, the direct financial benefit in higher earnings is around £400,000. Those who attend our best universities can expect to earn even more. Borrowing £21,000, at preferential rates, to secure twenty times that sum, is an offer you’d have to be a fool to turn down. And if you’re such a fool that you don’t want to accept that deal, then you’re too big a fool to benefit from the university education I’m currently subsidising for you.

I accept that some graduates will take up jobs which do not command handsome salaries. Individuals may pursue admirable work for which there is no great monetary reward, in the Church, the arts or public service. In these cases there is a strong case for the taxpayer bearing the cost of their degree. But why should the vast majority, who go on to benefit financially from their degree, be subsidised by me?

Those of us who are net contributors to the State, graduates or not, are getting a terrible deal for our money ...

If Mr Gove's government gets its way, the State and taxpayers will not be paying anything towards the tuition costs of most undergraduates' tuition at all.

Which gets us much closer to the Gove idea of a university, according to the op-ed.

First-rate universities with superb research facilities do bring benefits to the nation, economic and cultural. But the only way Britain can match America in boosting such institutions is by freeing them from the State, allowing them to charge reasonable fees and giving academics the autonomy professionals deserve; in a word, by privatisation.

That has the ring of serious and heartfelt sincerity.

But will the Education Secretary try to say he was just trying to entertain and shock his readers - and the piece does not in any way reflect what he has ever really thought, still less what he still secretly thinks now?

Or might his Times piece have just, in fact, revealed how at least some members of our government think about access to university?


edpw said...

"Individuals may pursue admirable work for which there is no great monetary reward, in the Church, the arts or public service. In these cases there is a strong case for the taxpayer bearing the cost of their degree."

This Tuition Fees Bill withdraws state funding from the humanities, the arts and the social sciences. Now I'm sure there are some religious leaders, artists and public servants who did maths, engineering or natural science but not many. How does Mr Gove square his writing here with the detail of his bill?

Syzygy said...

Do not forget Margaret Thatcher's intention in selling off Council houses. Her view was that a worker worried about paying the mortgage would not want to strike. This is equally true of student debt of 45+K.

Furthermore, these debts will open up a new market for the financial services, and doubtless, these debts can be securitised and collateralised in the same manner as mortgages. Student debt could be the root of the next banking crisis.....

Of course, the Tories want to privatise the universities. Their Thatcherite history was to remove funding from the arts and blue skies thinking science... and Cameron's New Tories are also New Thatcherites... (now, I want to say some very rude words!)

Briar said...

How curious. Apparently Mr Gove believes in vocation - and believes that those who have a vocation should not have a fair wage. What a very Victorian frame of mind.

Unknown said...

Forget Gove. Apparently Clegg studied skiing at Cambridge!

Everything You Wanted To Know about Nick Clegg in 47 Seconds: