Thursday, 7 October 2010

My response to the NUS' invitation to protest against tuition fees

I have received the following message on Facebook from the King's College NUS:

Hi everyone,

You might have seen lots of stories in the press review about the Browne review and the prosepct of increasing tuition fees to £10,000 from 2012 (incoming students). We obviously think this would be a VERY BAD THING! We need students who would be willing to talk to the press about what the impact of such an increase would be, in order to pressure the powers that be to reject such a proposal.

If you think you might be interested please can you contact [e-mail address concealed].

There's no obligation, just an opportunity to find out more.

I replied with the following:

Dear [XXX],

Thank you for the Facebook message about tuition fees.  I am a new MA Modern History student at King's and I apologise for the length of my reply to you but I think this is such a crucial topic that the NUS is taking an incorrect stance on, which is not in the long-term interests of the students that you represent.

I accept that I am not going to change the NUS' line but it is worth pointing out that not all students believe that it is the wrong move for the Government to take, should Lord Browne recommend an increase.  Some actually agree with it or many more, including me, would rather it wasn't the case (in an ideal world, university tuition would revert to being free) but recognise that it is necessary to safeguard British institutions' standing in the global HE marketplace and to provide the high quality teaching and facilities that students in this country demand.

Moreover, in talking to Aaron Porter on Tuesday, he seemed in agreement that students' concerns about a rise in tuition fees should not be as heightened were there to be the introduction of a clearly communicated system of financial aid (at all levels: undergraduate, postgraduate, part-time etc), funded by an increase in fees for those that can afford them.  I suggested a modified version of the National Bursary Scheme that featured in the Liberal Democrat manifesto and Aaron was fully supportive of that.

It is the IAG of financial support that is failing students, not the tuition fees policy.  As you will know, reform of financial support is a core objective of Lord Browne's independent review, alongside the more emotive topic of fees & funding.  As you will also know, the introduction of higher tuition fees in 2006 has not reduced overall student demand (it has increased), nor has it curtailed the rise in participation of young people from less privileged backgrounds (it has increased).  What holds people back is a lack of awareness about the financial support available, much of which goes unclaimed.  The best universities average 70-80% take-up but results are patchy.  A recent Sutton Trust report highlighted this very issue.

Lord Patten, chancellor of Oxford University, amongst others, has backed an increase in tuition fees but with the proviso that it permits admissions policies to be needs-blind.  At Harvard University, where annual fees (including tuition, board, materials etc) exceed $50,000, the average amount paid per undergraduate student is $12,000 and if your annual household income is less than $60,000 you pay nothing at all.  Only 5% of students pay the full amount.  At Yale, similarly, admissions are totally needs-blind.  I am not advocating a total adoption of the US system, for it has its faults (eye-watering fees that offer little value for money except for at the best institutions) and they have a dissimilar culture of philanthropy - however, it is that sort of model that we must consider in this country.

I would be delighted to contribute to your press campaign, clearly not representing the NUS position (though I am a member) but the views of a current King's College student.  Of course, using the views of students currently in the system (as opposed to future students that this policy might affect) is a huge failing of the research that the NUS has conducted into tuition fees.  Nevertheless, for these purposes it is where your activists are so I understand the reasoning.

Thank you very much for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Nik Darlington

P.S. My recent press article on the same subject, for more information, can be found here:

I'll let you know their response. 

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