Let’s have perspective in tuition fees debate | Letters

Guardian readers respond to Danny Dorling’s tuition fees plan for Labour

Danny Dorling is entitled to criticise the current university funding system, and I am by no means a fan of the marketisation agenda. But he gets carried away (How to write off student debt: my message for Labour, 30 October). Have fees really turned “education into a cheap and nasty marketplace”? Words and tone really do matter. If Dorling has evidence to back up his assertions, I hope he has shared it with the Office for Students and the Competition and Markets Authority. If he shares it with me I will certainly pass it on.

Sensationalised comments are particularly unhelpful given that universities are founded upon intellectual rigour. If Danny Dorling – the Halford Mackinder professor of human geography at Oxford University – does not need to base his conclusions on evidence, on what grounds can any of us in the university sector defend the importance of what we do? If Danny Dorling can say whatever suits his argument, how can we object when Donald Trump does the same?

The public have become sceptical of experts. One reason is that too many have used the platform their position gives them to indulge their prejudices. By all means criticise the university funding system, but do so with argument and reason.
Professor Graham Galbraith
Vice-chancellor, University of Portsmouth

• Danny Dorling is right to identify current students and recent graduates as big losers following the coalition government’s decision to triple university fees in England. Politicians must deal not just with the future cost of university, but also address the record debt levels created by the 2010 reforms. Research by London Economics for the University and College Union found that graduates will be hit with a “midlife tax crisis” because of their massive student loan debts.

This is just one symptom of a great crisis in education created by the government’s policies, which see the provision of learning as a cost not a public good. Our higher education funding system is off-putting for the poorest and those who wish to study part-time. It needs urgent surgery, as does further education, where colleges currently make do with 21% less real-terms funding than in 2010.

If the UK is to have a future as a high-skill economy, rather than a tax haven for the rich, we need a coherent plan, an increase in investment and an acknowledgement that education is integral to our society and economy, not an optional extra.
Matt Waddup
Head of policy and campaigns, University and College Union

• Danny Dorling’s plan to cap university fees looks ingenious. But how about the circa 3 million other students for whom this does nothing, other than absorb a very large amount of public subsidy, a small part of which might otherwise have been available to them? I refer to all those studying in further and adult education. They generally come from poorer backgrounds, so if we want progressive public expenditure we should be focusing on them. Their courses are often life-changingly effective in equipping them with all kinds of skills, personal and vocational. And in an ageing society this sector caters for students of all ages. Yet public funding for it has declined by 25% in the last few years.

The Association of Colleges has recently been vocal in making the case for colleges. Some of us have argued independently for an entitlement that applies equally to students in higher and further/adult education. Is there any argument against such equity? Rarely does anyone disagree in public. I’m sure Danny Dorling agrees. Getting practical action to achieve a proper balance is another matter. We await the results of the independent review of post-18 funding, chaired by Philip Augar, with interest.
Professor Tom Schuller

• Student tuition fees raise their head yet again, complete with the myth of students suffering under a huge financial burden. This time it is Danny Dorling who sets out an ingenious solution. Unfortunately, there is a huge flaw in Dorling’s argument because the more the state provides for tuition fees, the more help is given to better-off students. At the moment, because no student pays anything while at university and only begins to pay at all when earning above £25,000 – and then only a percentage of the sum above that figure – poorer students pay little or nothing.

Danny Dorling talks of “onerous private debts”, but all that is onerous is a psychological burden, engendered by constant repetition of misinformation for political motives. He would be better off campaigning against the high rate of interest attached to the loans, reminding students that any outstanding amount is written off after 30 years and that student loans cannot be taken into account by mortgage providers. All in all it is a good deal, certainly better than under Labour.
Michael Meadowcroft

• It is a sad day when Danny Dorling is prepared to back Labour’s proposal to scrap university fees and eliminate the existing student loans. That proposal in Labour’s manifesto was politically motivated and has no connection with economic justice and the need to reduce the high level of inequality. The present student loan scheme is not perfect and can be improved, but overall it is one of the fairest pieces of legislation introduced in an otherwise barren landscape over the past 20 years.

There is no better guarantee of financial and social wellbeing than the possession of a university degree, and it is right and fair that those who benefit should pay the costs of providing that benefit, rather than imposing the cost through higher taxes or reduced public services for those not so fortunate. The average university graduate has an average income after taxes, national insurance and student loan repayments 50% higher than those who have only completed their GCSEs. The gap is greater when we look at those who have not completed school.

The reference to loans of £50,000 is an emotional rather than rational way of attacking the system. Such so-called loans are no more genuine loans than is the future tax which any citizen can expect to pay over the rest of their life. The student loan scheme effectively is a form of graduate tax, but has advantages over such a tax.
Peter Howard
Haslemere, Surrey

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