Labour’s huge $1.2 billion+ bribe of free tertiary education for all has been done before. By the SNP in Scotland.
This is fortunate for us, as we can compare how students in Scotland fare compared to students in England, which has fees.
Tim Wigmore in the New Statesman writes:
If you are a disadvantaged young person today, your chances of going to university are far worse if you are born in Scotland than south of the River Tweed. The poorest fifth of Scots are 3.5 times less likely to go to university through Ucas than the top fifth; the difference is only 2.5 times in England. Based on this measure, Scotland has by far the greatest level of educational inequality in the UK.
So Scotland with free fees does worse than England in terms of getting poor families to university:
Because of the absence of tuition fees, universities themselves also lack money to invest in bursary and outreach programmes, further handicapping disadvantaged students. English institutions spend over three times as much on financial help for poor students, according to a 2013 study from the University of Edinburgh. English universities also no longer have a cap on the number of students they can take; the cap on the number of Scottish students that Scottish universities can take hurts all students but disproportionately affects the most disadvantaged.
The same could well occur here. Presumably the Government will ban universities from charging fees, which means they will entirely control the income streams for universities.
In an age of austerity, cutting school funding has partly paid for protecting free university education. Spending on schools in Scotland fell by five per cent in real terms from 2010 to 2013 while, in England, it rose in real terms between 2010 and 2015.
This is the opportunity cost I talked about. Rather than invest more money into improving teacher quality, they are just doing middle class welfare.
Nicola Sturgeon is fond of saying that university debt would have meant she couldn’t go to university. This is not only disingenuous – students only have to repay their fees when they are earning over £21,000 – but also ignores that students in Scotland today still leave university with an average debt of £21,000, more than those in Northern Ireland or Wales, which both have tuition fees. When far less generous bursaries from universities are taken into account, many disadvantaged Scottish students will actually graduate with higher debt than equivalent students in England. Perhaps this is why even Scots are becoming sceptical about this middle-class hand-out by stealth: only a quarter of Scots believe that no students should contribute towards their tuition fees.
A student will be around $500,000 better off by going to university. It is not unreasonable they should pay a small portion of the costs of that education, rather than tax everyone for 100% of it.