In Depth

Tuition fees 'should be cut', says two-thirds of public

Lord Adonis, a former Labour education minister, adds to calls for fees to be reduced

Two thirds of the British public think university tuition fees are too high and should be cut, or scrapped altogether, a new poll suggests. The finding adds to the pressure already on the Prime Minister to reduce fees.

What is the current situation?Earlier this year, the government announced plans to allow universities to increase tuition fees above the current £9,000 limit as part of an overhaul of funding.

Universities will be allowed to increase their fees in line with inflation from September next year. But, according to The Times, they will also be asked to volunteer for "Ofsted-style" assessments, which will eventually determine whether they are allowed to charge more.

How big is student debt?Debts are already "the highest in the developed world", says The Independent, "and will reach £57,000 for graduates from the poorest backgrounds, after maintenance grants were axed and replaced with loans".

According to the Student Loans Company, the total outstanding debt from UK student loans is £100.5bn - an increase of 16.6 per cent from 2016 and more than double the balance in 2012, when the cap on tuition fees rose to £9,000 per year.  

While the figure is "eye-watering", says the BBC, it does not include what the government has written off from unpaid loans (due to graduates' low earnings and the lapse of time).

What does the public think?According to a BMG Research poll for The Independent, almost two-thirds of Britons want annual tuition fees to be slashed or scrapped. Sixty-five per cent want fees cut, with 34 per cent favouring a return to £3,000-a-year charges – the cost before 2012 – and 31 per cent wanting them axed altogether.

The poll shows even stronger support (68 per cent) for no longer charging interest on student loans. Annual interest is set at the Retail Price Index (RPI) plus three per cent, meaning it will rise to a substantial 6.1 per cent next month.

What next?Lord Adonis, the former Labour education minister, said the findings showed the game was up for the current fee system, with individual debts set to hit £100,000 once compound interest is added on.

"The university cartel to keep fees at £28,000 for a three-year course won't last," he said, having also described the system as "Frankenstein’s monster".

Research from the Sutton Trust has found that rising student debt is putting off more people from applying for higher education.

However, the government insists the loan system is "progressive" because lower-earning graduates have their debts written off after 30 years. Repayments only start once graduates are earning over £21,000 - and the government says this means more people from disadvantaged backgrounds can enrol in university.

In June, Channel 4 published analysis that suggested the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had been wrong to suggest that high fees were putting off working-class students. "The share of the same kind of students who came from disadvantaged neighbourhoods has risen from 9.6 per cent in 2009/10 to 11.3 per cent in 2015/16," it said.

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