Young people have spoken: will they be heard over university fees and grants?

We ask whether the government should rethink student finance after the high youth election turnout

Student finance was firmly on the agenda in the election, with Labour pledging to scrap tuition fees, and even the Conservatives promising a “major review” of the funding of tertiary education. Student unions campaigned with vigour to get students to vote, and early figures suggest the highest turnout from young people for decades. Meanwhile, a third of university students feel their course is poor value for money, according to a survey published by the Higher Education Policy Institute last week. So what should the new government do?

Paul O’Prey

Prof Paul O’Prey, vice-chancellor of Roehampton University

“I suspect many politicians thought graduate debt had gone away as a political issue but it clearly hasn’t. Students accept they need to make a contribution because they benefit from a degree. They also want their university to be well funded, with a well-stocked library, good labs and reasonable class sizes. But they don’t want a very large level of debt. There has to be a balance. Help with day-to-day living costs is key. Some students are really struggling and I would urge the new government to look again at maintenance support for those finding it hard to manage.”

Ruth Wilkinson, president Kent University union

Ruth Wilkinson, president-elect of Kent University Union

“The day after the election was announced our union was straight on it to get students out to vote. We covered social media, we door-stopped with flyers. On the day, we were out reminding them all, and there were queues around the corner to vote. It was all about helping them to have a voice, not about a particular party. But they unseated the Conservative MP who had been in post since 1987, in a constituency that has been a Tory stronghold since the first world war.

“The top three issues were Brexit, the NHS and fees. A lot of students said they didn’t think students should be priced out of an education. Politicians need to take us seriously. They need to turn up on campus and engage with us on our views.”

Professor of public economics, Nicholas Barr at the London School of Economics, LSE. For education

Nick Barr, professor of public economics, London School of Economics

“There is much wrong with higher education finance, but abolishing tuition fees altogether would be profoundly wrong and subsidise the university education of old Etonians. I realise that’s not the intention, but that’s the outcome.

“The government should adjust the student loan so that it costs the taxpayer considerably less. It is estimated that about 40% of total lending to students will not be repaid. The primary problem is the design of the loan, not misbehaviour by borrowers. A cheaper loan frees resources to be spent on the higher-priority things, including non-degree tertiary education and training, and improving attainment in schools.”

Kate Wilson

Kate Wilson, parent, Bristol

“I voted Labour, but there was a voice in my head wondering whether cutting tuition fees was really affordable. Tuition fees wouldn’t stop me sending my children to university, but I worry about the debt.

“My dad grew up in a working-class family in a small mining town in Cornwall with no inside loo, and he went to Cambridge University and the world opened up for him. I don’t think he’d have gone if it meant taking on this huge debt.

“I worry debt will put my daughter off going to university. I think young people are practical – they want to know if it will be worth it and what they’ll get out of it. But I want her to experience independence, and meet new people and be open to new ideas.”

Professor David Green

Prof David Green, vice-chancellor, Worcester University

“This is the election where the young people’s vote really came of age, and student fees were a big motivating factor. I would be delighted if the new government decided fees should be reduced or eliminated – provided that cash is made up exactly by a government grant.

“But there are things the government could do easily straight away on fees, including reducing the interest rate at which young people are paying back. They are paying cracking on for 6%, which is unfair. And bursaries for nursing and midwifery courses must be restored.”

Prof Claire Callender, Professor of Higher Education, Birkbeck & Institute of Education, University of London

Claire Callender, professor of higher education policy, Birkbeck, University of London

“This election has shown how much disquiet there is about student finance arrangements. Whether that is enough for young people to be heard is another issue. The mantra has been that students are the key beneficiaries and they should pay. But the graduate contribution to society tends to be overlooked.”


Anna Fazackerley

The GuardianTramp

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