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.

Comments

  • River Tam

    > 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

    It’s only fitting, seeing as those students are a heavy burden on productive members of society.

  • commentator

    @RiverTam.

    Well, its so good that you are doing something productive!
    Not like all those lazy English and foreign language teachers, historians, translators…

  • River Tam

    > Well, its so good that you are doing something productive! Not like all those lazy English and foreign language teachers, historians, translators…

    At least I don’t complain when others don’t subsidize my lifestyle. You want to work a job that you love and that makes no money – more power to you. Just don’t whine that I should be paying for your college.

    I work 20 hours a week at school to pay for my own tuition. I’m getting a job that pays well enough afterwards that I’ll be able to live comfortably and pay off the loans I’ve taken through four years here.

    You know what I’m not going to do? Insist that I deserve money just because I’m interested in playing the guitar. I only *deserve* what someone’s willing to pay me. I’m not paying your salary and you don’t have to pay mine.

  • commentator

    First, River Tam, you are not paying for anybody’s college, and you are not subsidizing anybody’s lifestyle. Clearly, like all the other people infected with the virus of neoliberal social Darwinism, you don’t understand that market and society are not the same thing. The job that doesn’t make (much) money is not playing the guitar, but the job of educating your children, researching and preserving historical heritage, making important intellectual work written in other languages available in English, etc. In other words, there are jobs that perform valuable social functions, while not generating money (at least not in any directly obvious way). Hence, it is necessary for the society to subsidize those things, through taxes for instance: so we are all paying, and I for one, am happy to do it. What, you don’t understand what society is? You don’t understand that there things that are socially valuable while not making money? Well, I didn’t think you would.

    And finally, I know that poor Americans think it’s normal to start your after-college life with $ 100 000 of debt. Luckily, that debt in France, Germany, and until now, Britain, is nonexistent. And any effort to keep it that way is worthwhile.

  • River Tam

    > The job that doesn’t make (much) money is not playing the guitar, but the job of educating your children, researching and preserving historical heritage, making important intellectual work written in other languages available in English, etc. In other words, there are jobs that perform valuable social functions, while not generating money (at least not in any directly obvious way).

    Last I heard, translators, teachers, and historians all got paid, because people (readers, students, universities, etc) value their production. It seems like you’re complaining that they’re not getting paid *enough*, where “enough” is some nebulous undefined concept.

    > You don’t understand that there things that are socially valuable while not making money?

    I’m sure there are. I still don’t understand why I should be subsidizing them. You’ve merely explained why you *want* to subsidize them.

    Markets are the monetization of people paying for things that make them happy. Translators, historians, and musicians can all make a lot of money – if they are good at their jobs and make lots of people happy (ie: sell a lot of books, concerts, etc). I already provide monetary support for artists and writers by buying books and music that I like. With this model, people who write and produce music that provides value to people (ie: people like it) will get paid. People who don’t, won’t.

    Also, I resent the suggestion that I am in any way a “social Darwinist”. Social Darwinism seeks to let people starve in the streets to better the human race. I seek to not give my hard-earned (although the difficulty taken to earn it is hardly the point) money to people who *choose* (for that IS what pursuing a career in the arts is – a CHOICE) a lifestyle that they know has a high probability of making them less financially successful.

    In my career, I’ll never starve, but I’ll never be Kanye West or Paul Krugman either. People in my line of work don’t become famous. What you’re propose is to do is externalize the risks associated with going into academia or becoming an artist (ie: obscurity, poverty, unemployment) while internalizing the rewards. I don’t get a piece of Kanye’s fame or Paul Krugman’s Nobel. I might enjoy their work, but that’s why I pay money for an album or book I like.

  • pablum

    River Tam: an endless logorrheic source of abridged Randian libertarianism. The principles of market liberalism and “hard work” spangle her regurgitated ideology like so many bits of carrot and corn.

  • River Tam

    > River Tam: an endless logorrheic source of abridged Randian libertarianism.

    Rand hated libertarianism. Never read her, don’t plan to.

    > The principles of market liberalism and “hard work” spangle her regurgitated ideology like so many bits of carrot and corn.

    Well, that or Max Weber (the Protestant ethic blah blah blah), Adam Smith (it is not from the benevolence of the baker blah blah blah), or Fredrich Hayek (Road to Serfdom, blah blah blah). Ayn Rand developed a comprehensive (and singularly odd) metaphysical justification for her system of objectivism. Nothing I say has anything to do with Ayn Rand. It’s pure economics. Have you heard of economics? It’s all the rage right now. You should try it.

    It’s very easy to denigrate hard work until you try it and reap the rewards. You can work for pleasure or you can work for money. Life’s about trade-offs. I’d prefer to play ultimate frisbee or write for the rest of my life. I just know that these things pay less. I don’t begrudge people who choose those paths, but just don’t whine when you can’t have it all.

    stability, opportunity, and satisfaction. Most people are lucky to find a career with two.

  • pablum

    You’re missing the point: the structure of the University only succeeds in allowing those disadvantaged by the circumstances of their birth (over which they have no control, so “hard work” doesn’t even come into question) to choose career paths that will repay their financial debt to the University and to their creditors (sometimes including the University) — a form of indentured servitude. Those who enjoy the comforts of their birth are free to do what they will.

    This is a fact of existence — the poor have less liberty than the rich. The purpose of academic financial aid is to allow those not privileged by birth, but who demonstrate a desire for “hard work,” to enjoy greater liberty; if that liberty is illusory — as it is — then it actually accomplishes nothing.

    This also results in a woeful intellectual deficit in the humanities, which have been and are becoming more and more a refuge for the rich and the lazy; why shouldn’t the poor, but studious and scholarly, be denied acess to the arts, to the criticism of art, to philosophy, and the like? How are we to understand the human condition if only a very small portion of humanity, and perhaps the least equipped to understand it, is dedicated to its study?

  • River Tam

    > This is a fact of existence — the poor have less liberty than the rich.

    I would dispute this vigorously. You are defining “liberty” in the progressive sense, which is to mean that you’re defining it as what someone is capable of doing. By that definition, Lebron James has more liberty than I do by virtue of his ability to dunk a basketball, let alone by virtue of his millions of dollars, etc.

    I grew up in what amounts to the bottom 10% of Yalies in terms of income/opportunities growing up. Not the poorest – either at Yale or absolutely – but certainly “poor”. I am not “less free” as a result. Freedom is intrinsic to the self, not created by opportunity. Loans are given because people will pay them off, not because banks are in the business of giving out free money. I had the freedom to take that opportunity (take out loans in exchange for a world-class education) and I’ll have the freedom to pay off my loans quickly (by going into a stable, high-paying career path) rather than slowly (by playing guitar on the streets of Brooklyn). I would *love* to play street music **if money were no object** — but it is for me, and I don’t think that’s a form of oppression. It’s not even unfair or unjust. I accept and embrace the fact that I will have to work for a living.

    > why shouldn’t the poor, but studious and scholarly, be denied acess to the arts, to the criticism of art, to philosophy, and the like?

    Because until you’ve experienced poverty, you’ll have a harder time understanding why it’s so important to escape it. The poor are not denied access to the arts – they choose to go into stable career paths because they value the stability that a Yale education affords them. The rich go into unstable career paths because they value the ceiling that a Yale education affords them. Different goals.

    > This also results in a woeful intellectual deficit in the humanities, which have been and are becoming more and more a refuge for the rich and the lazy

    Becoming? There have always been primarily two types of people who devote their lives to the humanities: those who are born rich, and those who stay poor.

  • commentator

    River Tam, I am impressed by your disdain for any activity that is not market-driven (and please don’t deny it, as it is extremely tiresome to read your pseudo-intellectual tirades that poorly mask what amounts to some kind of deep frustration with the a&h…perhaps an English teacher giving you hard time, or something along those lines? Or is simply that your own experience with poverty led you to the mistaken belief that humanities don’t entail work?).

    “I accept and embrace the fact that I will have to work for a living.” Wonderful. Who doesn’t? What exactly in this letter has suggested that somebody is not interested in that exact thing?
    No one here was whining about people in the humanities not being paid enough – not the writer of this letter, not the commentators. The “whining humanities people” are your projection. It is a fact that a tenured Yale professor makes as much as a half-decent Connecticut doctor, and less than a half-decent lawyer. I didn’t hear anybody complain. Further, it is expected and accepted that humanities PhDs are going to make less money than any other group of people whose education requires similar amount of time and effort. No complaints there.

    “It’s very easy to denigrate hard work until you try it and reap the rewards.” Who exactly is denigrating work? You are generating a false dilemma between humanities and work by basing your argument on extreme examples: it’s either playing music on the street, or Kanye West, so it’s either financially unsuccessful popular entertainment, or wildly successful one, neither of which is particularly characteristic of arts and humanities. The question of a&h is not about street musicians, but about who is going to teach the children and study history, which isn’t exactly the same thing as playing guitar on Broadway. This is why the question of funding is crucial. Can a society afford to place a disproportionally (compared to future projected income) high burden on professions that are not terribly profitable, but are nevertheless vital?

  • pablum

    I wrote:

    >why shouldn’t the poor, but studious and scholarly, be denied acess to the arts, to the criticism of art, to philosophy, and the like?

    Blatant typo. I meant: “why should…”

    commentator hits the nail on the head: River Tam sets up a false dilemma, if not a straw man of the humanist, that really isn’t worth the trouble of engagement.

  • River Tam

    > River Tam, I am impressed by your disdain for any activity that is not market-driven (and please don’t deny it, as it is extremely tiresome to read your pseudo-intellectual tirades that poorly mask what amounts to some kind of deep frustration with the a&h…perhaps an English teacher giving you hard time, or something along those lines?

    Au contraire. One of my majors is in the arts/humanities block.

    > “I accept and embrace the fact that I will have to work for a living.” Wonderful. Who doesn’t?

    Anyone who believes that they should be paid by “society” to do something because the market does not compensate them “fairly”.

    > Can a society afford to place a disproportionally (compared to future projected income) high burden on professions that are not terribly profitable, but are nevertheless vital?

    “Profitable” by what measure? Basketball players are only profitable because people *pay to watch them play basketball*. Kanye West and Rivers Cuomo are only profitable because people *pay to listen to their music*. This is how society measures “vitality”. And being a top-level historian is certainly “profitable”, as is being a world-class music teacher, a world-class pianist, or a world-class artist.

    There are more people who want to be rock stars than there are opportunities to actually be rock stars. Hence, a lot of mediocre rock bands are “starving artists”. Same goes for painters, rappers, music producers, amateur film-makers, aspirig writers, etc. Same goes for college professors — getting tenure at the university level is brutal because the competition is *fierce*. Mediocrity (by which I mean averageness, not the Yale-sense of “bad”), is not well-paid in *any* industry.

  • commentator

    You do realize that in most developed countries there are people who are paid by society, that is, the taxpayers? This is partly true even in the US. Maybe you’ve heard of them – police officers, judges, firefighters, teachers, doctors? More importantly, people that are being payed by society are not paid by society because the market doesn’t compensate them fairly, but because society believes that these vital functions should not be left to the market.

    ‘”Profitable” by what measure?’ For you clearly there is only one measure.

    ‘Kanye West and Rivers Cuomo are only profitable because people pay to listen to their music. This is how society measures “vitality”. If teaching were truly so vital, it would be “profitable”‘
    I must be wrong again to detect Social Darwinism in this. Those who are payed a lot of money are “vital”, in fact market success is the measure of “vitality”. Nope, no social Darwinism there.

    Glenn Beck would be sooo proud of you.

  • pablum

    >This is how society measures “vitality”. If teaching were truly so vital, it would be “profitable”.

    You assume that all humans are discrete, rational agents and that, since society is the sum of rational agents, society is rational. This is an incredibly simplistic perspective applied to a complex and oftentimes irrational system. Your understanding of economics barely departs from the chanting of slogans.

    If it were true that “vitality” were a function of profitability, then all profitable ventures would be vital, and no vital ventures would be unprofitable. Anybody who isn’t blinded by ideology can see that this is not the case.

  • River Tam

    > Those who are payed a lot of money are “vital”, in fact market success is the measure of “vitality”. Nope, no social Darwinism there.

    You clearly don’t understand what social darwinism is.

    > Glenn Beck would be sooo proud of you.

    Oh come on, now you’re just naming bogeymen on the right. I am libertarian/conservative, so I’m not sure what your point is though. Saying “you and Glenn Beck agree on X” isn’t a valid (or interesting) for of argumentation.

    > Your understanding of economics barely departs from the chanting of slogans.

    Says the anthro (history?) major.

    > If it were true that “vitality” were a function of profitability, then all profitable ventures would be vital, and no vital ventures would be unprofitable.

    True public goods are exceptions. Art, writing, and education are not public goods. Firefighting and defense are.

  • YaleEngineer

    River Tam, Pablum and Commentator, you guys should watch Good Will Hunting. You’re ALL pretentious douche bags.
    How do you like THEM apples?

    AS a matter of historical interest, for the last 30 years or so, British Universities (one of which I graduated from) have typically increased the proportion of foreign fee paying students during times of economic stringency, thus reducing the number of slots for the subsidized indigents. I see no reason why they would change now. Students WILL pay a lot more for the same thing…they just won’t be British students.

  • River Tam

    > River Tam, Pablum and Commentator, you guys should watch Good Will Hunting. You’re ALL pretentious douche bags. How do you like THEM apples?

    I grew up poorer than Will Hunting. How do you like them apples?

    > Students WILL pay a lot more for the same thing…they just won’t be British students.

    Foreign students! The horror! Your comment indicates that *you* attended a British University, which either makes you a foreigner (oh no! Foreigners at Yale!) or an American (oh no! Foreigners at British schools!).

  • commentator

    “You clearly don’t understand what social darwinism is.”
    I strongly suggest you inform yourself a bit better about social Darwinism. It’s really embarrassing when you can’t identify your own beliefs.
    Art, writing, and education ARE public goods. Defense? Well, defense sure is, but then again, most Americans don’t understand that randomly attacking other countries isn’t defense. More to the point, thank you for identifying yourself as libertarian (not that it wasn’t obvious). Debating social good with anarchists is way too futile. It’s enough keeping them out of power. Over and out.

  • River Tam

    > “You clearly don’t understand what social darwinism is.” I strongly suggest you inform yourself a bit better about social Darwinism. It’s really embarrassing when you can’t identify your own beliefs.

    Wikipedia: “It especially refers to notions of struggle for existence being used to justify social policies which show no sympathy for those unable to support themselves. ”

    Being unable to support one’s self (ie: being poor) and being unwilling to support one’s self (ie: consciously entering a field that pays no money) are very different. Yes, I have no sympathy for a classmate of mine who turns down a job at McKinsey to tour with his band. I wish him all the best, but I’m not going to feel sorry for him because he can’t afford rent on his apartment – he made that choice.

    > Art, writing, and education ARE public goods.

    You also clearly don’t understand what public goods are. Public goods are not just “goods the public likes”, because by that argument basically everything that’s nice and wonderful is a public good.

    Public goods are non-rivalrous and non-excludable. Art and writing are both excludable (ie: you need to pay a price to experience the art) and, with the exception of digital media, are both rivalrous. Education itself is very much both rivalrous (see: teacher shortages) and excludable (see: suspension).

    Arguing for the public benefits of art, education, etc is very different from arguing that it’s a public good. Don’t embarrass yourself by misunderstanding basic terminology.

    > More to the point, thank you for identifying yourself as libertarian (not that it wasn’t obvious).

    I didn’t identify myself as a libertarian, and I don’t identify myself as such.

    > Debating social good with anarchists is way too futile.

    I thought I was a Glenn Beck acolyte.. that’s what you said less than a day ago, right? I thought I was a libertarian – that’s what you said a sentence ago, right?

    > Defense? Well, defense sure is, but then again, most Americans don’t understand that randomly attacking other countries isn’t defense

    And now we’re going off the rails… just one more clear example of how the left despises and hates the majority of their own countrymen.