Higher education funding

I don’t teach you about higher education funding because, although it’s  one of the key areas of divergence in policy between the devolved nations in the UK, it’s not really a central focus of social policy. Or, it is only of interest to social policy when we consider issues of access and social mobility.


However, it’s clearly of political interest in Scotland:

The Ecstone - in the grounds of Heriot-Watt
The Ecstone – in the grounds of Heriot-Watt


But, it is useful to briefly dwell on it because, as I mentioned before, because you are benefiting from “free” higher education in Scotland, you are enormously more in favour of it then the general population in Scotland.


It’s also interesting because things might be about to change in Wales. If you’re Scottish and study in England, you pay £9k a year fees, and get a loan to help pay for that and your living costs. If you are Welsh, then the Welsh Government make up the difference between the Welsh tuition fee and the English tuition fee with a grant. This meant the higher education system in Wales basically sent money to English universities (read here). Is this fair? (answer in the comments below)


Now, to stop this, to make up for the fact the Welsh Government budget is being cut, and to increase university funding, the Welsh Government might well be accepting the proposals of the “Diamond Report“. This will be a lot like the system in England was. Students will pay £9k fees, but in return poorer students would get a grant to support their living costs and fees. Is this fair?


In Scotland, we have stones about our policy. But the reality is more complex. Because a lot of the living cost support has shifted to loans in Scotland, while on average Scottish students leave uni with less debt, the poorest students actually leave university with more debt as they need it for their living costs. Is this fair?


Finally, we also need to consider the bigger picture – having a degree is still only something a minority of the population benefit from, yet it still leads to people earning substantially more over their lifetimes. Is it fair that a majority of the population without degrees pay more tax to pay for an enhanced education for a minority? Is paying off a student loan fairer than paying higher rates of tax (a progressive income taxation system) for the rest of your life?

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