Letter: Misjudging the British plan

Nick Kemper’s column (“Remember, remember the facts of reform,” Nov. 15) misses the larger picture of the impact of the British plan to raise tuition at universities. While Kemper argues that it is reasonable to expect those who can afford it to pay more tuition and the rest to take loans to pay for college, he is too dismissive of the fact that this will deepen an existing socio-economic gap among students at Britain’s elite universities. “If Yale gets to charge those who can afford its $49,800 a year, where’s the injustice in allowing Oxford the option of charging a quarter of that?” Kemper asks. Well, Yale also boasts the ability to offer financial aid that Oxford and Cambridge could hardly match in better days, let alone in their difficult financial circumstances today.

$60,000 in loans is not a light burden for anyone, even if students do not have to pay until they make enough money to afford it. Because the best universities will always have enough demand to be able charge the maximum price, students who wish to graduate with less debt will be forced to consider other options, while wealthier students can simply impose the cost on their parents. On an ideological level, raising tuition is a large step away from the idea (which has prevailed so far in the U.K.) that higher education is a public good made available to everyone through a fair tax system, avoiding the need for poorer students to incur large debts.

Kemper also does not take into account the less obvious consequences that these high loans will impose on students’ life choices. $60,000 may not be a problem for those who will go into investment banking, consulting or corporate law, but it is a heavy burden on students who might consider careers in the arts and humanities or those who would like to work for human rights organizations — these heavy costs will come into effect if they are lucky enough to make more than the threshold for paying back their loans.

Finally, Kemper’s argument that the U.K. can improve its education system through higher fees is misguided because the raise in tuition will not inject additional funds into higher education that can be used to improve its quality. The rise in fees will make up for the funds the government is already taking out of the education system in order to pay for its large budget deficit. Students will just have to pay a lot more for the same thing.

Zeynep Pamuk

Nov. 15

The writer is a former culture editor for the News.