BBC BLOGS - Peston's Picks
« Previous | Main | Next »

Should students pay our bills?

Robert Peston | 16:16 UK time, Monday, 21 September 2009

Perhaps it's an Oxford and FT thing.

First we had Ed Balls (schools minister, ex-FT commentator, educated Keble, Oxford) suggesting cuts in the schools budget and today Richard Lambert (director general of the CBI, ex-FT editor, Balliol, Oxford) proposes that university students pay increased tuition fees.

Student silhouetted in front of The Sheldonian Theatre, OxfordWhen I heard what the CBI was recommending, I assumed this would be predicated on a hard-nosed capitalist analysis.

The argument, surely, would be along the lines of saying that a student should pay a price that captures the uplift to his or her earning power from the relevant course and qualification, the private gain, as opposed to the benefit for society.

That would have a certain ideological coherence, and might well resonate with many of the business group's members. Although it might not appeal to all of you.

However that's not really where the CBI's task force (led by Sam Laidlaw, chief executive of Centrica, old Etonian, Caius, Cambridge) is coming from.

And probably a good thing too.

Because there's rather more art than science in establishing a "fair" price for higher education, one which allows the purchasers (the fickle 18-year-olds) to believe that they really will have a lot more delicious jam tomorrow if they burden themselves with substantial debt today.

In fact, strikingly, the CBI is almost voting for Christmas - in that it actually wants companies to pay a bigger price for the benefits they receive from university.

The CBI is unambiguous that the UK's putatively world-class higher education system is not a free lunch for companies - which need to be a bit keener to pick up the bill for keeping themselves and the UK competitive in the global marketplace.

That said, there's no suggestion that this bill for companies should be in any sense obligatory - just a voluntary contribution to the greater prosperity.

So the CBI recommends that companies sponsor more students to do the courses - especially in science, technology, engineering and maths - that are particularly valuable to them.

Science students in laboratoryAnd it says that they should pay signing-on bonuses to students who take the degrees they want.

Which for those in the private sector who fear that the bonus culture is on the run is probably an example of inculcating the faith while the tomorrow's leaders are still young and pliable.

In the round, the CBI wants much greater collaboration between universities and business.

That's a refrain we've heard many times over the years. But this is probably not the time to ignore it, since indebted, no-growth Britain needs to start paying its way in the world pretty sharpish.

So what is the argument then for whacking up what students pay - and not as a voluntary tariff?

Well it's simply that the CBI assumes - uncontroversially - that with the national debt inflating rather faster than A-level results, there will be tough public-spending choices for a government of any colour in the coming year or so.

And it believes the realistic alternatives are cutting research funding, slashing teaching budgets, reducing student numbers or whacking up the financial contribution made by undergraduates.

Presented with that unappetising menu, the CBI thinks the UK will be least damaged by demanding that the young pay more for their own improvement in two different ways: by pushing up tuition fees; and by increasing the interest rate on student loans to the rate actually paid by government for servicing its own debt.

Which may be rational, so long as the deterrent effect of higher fees is not too great. And so long as those from poorer backgrounds are protected through maintenance grants and special bursaries.

However, there is also an issue here of inter-generational social justice which the CBI ignores.

More by luck than desert, the generation of Lambert, Balls, Laidlaw and even Peston have had it pretty good.

We had free university education.

We have saved for a pension over the many years of a bull market and when companies and the public sector felt obliged to offer gold-standard final salary pension schemes.

We managed to get on the property ladder before house prices became ludicrously inflated.

And guess what? It was our generation which royally messed up the economy with the inadequate governance that led to the credit crunch and the worst global recession since the 1930s.

We're - on the whole - alright Jack, thanks to the accident of when we happen to have been born.

But those leaving school and university today face an altogether bleaker future: a drought of jobs; a bewildering and unappealing set of options for saving and investing; over-priced residential property (even after the "correction"); relentless fearsome competition from India, China, and so on.

And there's the costs of providing a health service and welfare state to sustain an older generation - of Lambert, Balls, Laidlaw and Peston - whom the actuaries say will go on and on and on (heaven help us).

By contrast, it is also striking that the CBI concedes that the cost to taxpayers of our higher education system is not great compared to other wealthy economies.

So some may well argue that as and when a new government decides to make cuts or increase taxes - to fill the hole in the public finances created by the current generation - its first instinct should probably not be to penalise students. Shouldn't the older generation bequeath them something other than debt?


Page 1 of 3

  • Comment number 1.

    One way to cut the costs, is the increased usage of the Open University model,ie learning on the job or do the work at evening.The idea that you can only get a degree if you leave home and do it full time is outdated in this computer age.

    However from a personnel perspective leaving home and going to university was the best thing I did.

  • Comment number 2.


    Maybe that this is just one toll signalling the end of higher education as we know it. When more and more higher education establishments from all around the world are posting for free many courses on, when Carnegie Mellon launches an "Open Learning" initiative (, perhaps that if the "I" in ROI goes up people will demand much more "R" for their money. Market at work.

  • Comment number 3.

    Maybe the 50% of all kids should go to university is an unattainable, unaffordable objective - leaving aside whether it would actually do any good. If the numbers were reduced to say 1/3rd of school leavers would UK economy suffer?

    Fortunately my children have at least 2 general elections to go before they go to university so the policy will change at least 3 times before then but I am expecting the cost to be £10,000 pa per student (in todays prices) some of which no doubt the bank of ma and pa will be funding

  • Comment number 4.

    If you want to start a social uprising then this is possibly the quickest way to go about it.

    No jobs for graduates, universities in financial trouble, unobtainable house prices and now increasing the new tuition fees.

    The only way to create a revolt faster is a poll tax or to cut state benefits.

    P.s. Robert - stop stealing my phrases "We're - on the whole - alright Jack"

  • Comment number 5.

    Robert said
    "Shouldn't the older generation bequeath them something other than debt?"

    Sadly Robert - this is all we have to offer thanks to the greed of a few individuals and the assistance of our corrupt Government system.

    Hopefully the next generation will find forgiveness before they decide to burn the lot of us. However I wouldn't blame them if they didn't - it's not like we've been responsible is it?

  • Comment number 6.

    If Blair and Co hadnt wanted to try and send half the population to University to gain degrees in useless subjects, we could have carried on with a great system that worked well and produced our professional sector.
    (I didnt go to University by the way)
    But, usual labour, screw everything and keep digging. New rules and laws that dont work and then new ones again to try and make two wrongs into a right. We are governed by the most inept bunch of politicians the world has ever had to endure.
    The people who did qualify and get good jobs paid large amounts of tax on their later earnings anyway.
    Who pays in the end for all the useless new initiatives ! US, the poor taxpayer. Scrap the whole Blair mantra and slash the costs and sack the quangos and we will have plenty left to pay the students education costs.
    Also get the Universities to work a full year instead of half a year and half the years the students need (and make the University staff do a decent years work ) Some common sense would sort out many issues.
    And of course, it goes without saying. get rid of the real problem ! Brown ! The man who bankrupted Britain. Morally, politically and financially.

  • Comment number 7.

    One of the most stupid proposals I've seen in a long time. Surely the tendency of (young) people today to get themselves into debt so willingly is one of the key causes of the mess that we're in. Forcing students to get even further into debt before they even start is completely the wrong thing to do. Once they're already £30k in debt, they are on the slippery slope.

    There are almost certainly far too many people getting degrees these days - and I say that primarily out of concern that many of them are never going to get jobs that need or make use of their degree. It's not a recipe for job satisfaction - especially if they have got into a lot of debt to get that degree. An awful lot of job vacancies insist on candidates having degrees, not because the job actually needs one but simply because it's an easy way of weeding out weaker candidates. So if you want to save money, then reducing the number of student places would make much more sense than charging students huge amounts of money.

    One other concern I have about the tuition fees is that for many "academic" subjects they already seem extremely high compared with the costs of actually providing the education. OK, for medecine or engineering I can see that costs are high. But for something like maths or history or law, you go to lectures (often well attended so the costs per student are low), you study in your room or in the library, you attend a few seminars and you turn up for the exam. How much does it cost? It can't be that much. There must be a lot of cross subsidising going on, either subsidising other subjects or I suspect more likely subsidising research.

  • Comment number 8.

    What 'Joined up thinking' we have from our Leadership Elite, my children will have to find more to pay for their courses, their 'loans' are inversely related to my income and assets, I have assets, but no income and am rapidly running out of savings (Oh yes I forgot, I am near 'old' and a contractor, so finding work is almost impossible now thanks to the idiots whose 'spend spend spend' profligacy has led us to the brink (and maybe beyond) of ruin). Thus to get my children through Uni I will have been made penniless as it is my assets that are assessed for my 'adult' children's ability to obtain loans, loans they won't get as long as I have the assets, and if I liquidate them to pay my Children's fees etc, I have no pension. If they have to pay a fortune for UK Education, I will encourage them to apply abroad, as they may as well pay a fortune abroad and, hopefully stay there. Mind you given my children are being encouraged to apply to Oxford, maybe that is a good thing and they shouldn't go - aren't all the idiots who got us into this mess Oxbridge Graduates?

  • Comment number 9.

    What next ?
    Extra taxes on babe's calpol ?

    While we are here.

    Return to 17.5 % VAT equals £8billion apparently.

    Maybe there should be a extra tax on, say, salt..Oh no that's been done long ago.

    How about something else...text messaging ?

    6.5 billion person to person texts a month apparently. 0ne pence extra each in tax, equals about £780 million a year.

    Nearly £4 billion in a five year period...tempting perhaps,for some politician's.

  • Comment number 10.

    "Putatively" is not strong enough a word to use before the phrase "world class education system" if applying it to the UK. I got a physics degree 20 years ago and now interview, work with and supervises some of the new science grads of today. I can tell you (a)academic standards have definitely slipped and (b)new grads have been conditioned to believe they are in some way special, a finished article, etc rather than a work in progress so they need to be continually pandered to, told how wonderful they are and get given rapid pay increments in order to inspire them to do any work. Part of the problem is that Universities now view students as customers. Hence they tend to mollycoddle them and prefer not to mark them down as it may lead to prospective future students favouring other competitor uni's/colleges. Oxford and Cambridge may have better maintained standards but the rest are in this bidding down war. We might be better off just importing our tecnhical grads at least from Eastern Europe where they seem to have better training and work ethic.

  • Comment number 11.

    The older generation had bettter hope that the youg'uns don't wake up and realise they have been sadled with at least 2 generations of debt or its going to be intergenerational war... keep borrowing today... the kids will pay... still at least your intergenerational house price ponzi scheme has collapsed... still they are only robbing the future... every indentured debt graduate will become a lead weigth on the public purse when they leave this cursed society for kleptocratic spivs which created it.

  • Comment number 12.

    If everyone goes to university, who's going to clean the streets and serve fast food? It's not a great advertisement for higher education or financial affairs if our social sciences graduates all end up flipping burgers for a living.

    Kids have to be left to find their own level to a certain extent. If everyone has a degree, their value is worthless.

  • Comment number 13.

    I agree that companies should do more to help students, may be not just in form monetary assistance but in form of on the job training, as I did not do any form of "Proper" work expereince during my degree, I struggled to find work after, so to make the degree worth the extra cost, I think actual work experience would greatly help.

  • Comment number 14.

    My personal view is that that students should get a full maintenance grant and have their course fees paid.

    However, as the country is almost bankrupt, the arithmetic of this means that far far fewer students will be able to go to university than do now.

    My preference for a rationing model is to eliminate all courses that are 'ologies' (see the ancient BT advert with Maureen Lipman) and only provide funding for traditional subjects, English, History, Modern Languages, Pure and Applied 'proper' Science, Mathematics and Engineering. (I include economics in the list of 'ologies' which, for the time being, we cannot afford. If economists hadn't wreaked the world's economy I might have had a more sympathetic attitude!)

    But I do think that those students that do go to university should get a full (means tested) grant and have their fees paid.

  • Comment number 15.

    .....Robert, in the not too distant future the young will come to hate and despise our baby boomer generation. Not only did we spend their future income by insisting on bringing our own consumption forward using debt, but will then have the temerity to ask them to pay for treatment via the NHS that will keep us on this earth till we are in our 90's. It could well be that the power of the 'grey vote' may even persuade politicians that it will be worth their while to grant free cosmetic surgery, free health club membership etc to the over 70's so that they can retain their looks. After all, there will be more old voters than young ones. Whatever did this generation do to deserve the likes of us? Regards geoff (aged 50).

  • Comment number 16.

    Brilliant piece once again, Robert.
    In addition, perhaps a good time to raise the scandal of exhorbitant university tuition fees already being charged for postgraduate courses. My daughter has just finished a 1 year taught masters course. The prospectus showed single year tuition fees, depending on the subject, ranged from about £6,000 to, ....wait for it ....., £17,500!! Courses containing in the title the word 'business' or 'management' or economics' were at the higer end of the range.
    Years ago, the criterion for university entrance was academic ability rather than ability to pay. Now we seem to speeding in the opposite direction.

  • Comment number 17.

    'The argument, surely, would be along the lines of saying that a student should pay a price that captures the uplift to his or her earning power from the relevant course and qualification, the private gain, as opposed to the benefit for society.'

    The issue with this is that not everyone who goes to University gets such an uplift and it is quite legitimate for some to pursue a poorly-paid career – one that might have significant social benefit.

    This is why I've always argued that we need to monitor the average pay of graduates relative to that of non-graduates and only start collecting student loan repayments when a graduate's salary rises above that of their none-graduate peers.

    This would be fairer and would not unduly punish those that study with an objective that will provide little or no personal enrichment in relative terms.

    I did write to the Lib Dems years ago suggesting that this might be a more realistic policy than abolishing tuition fees altogether. But they simply sent a boiler-plate response talking of the importance of free education for all. It has been clear for ages that this position is fantasy.

    But that doesn't mean we can't make the current system fairer.

  • Comment number 18.

    Seeing as there will be no jobs for the 500,000 uni students who graduate each year, for at least the next 10 years, it probably makes sense to chop the numbers and if the way if doing that is by upping the fees so be it

    Another lost generation

  • Comment number 19.

    Haven't we reached the stage where we can seriously consider aboloshing the monetary system?

    Technology has become so advanced now that we could probably make machines to do all the essential jobs.

  • Comment number 20.

    The only problem is, those with the most money are in charge.

  • Comment number 21.

    Once upon a time if you had the right qualifications you could attend university on a local authority funded grant. This was adjusted according to your family income and usually students worked their vacations to eke out the grant. What was wrong with that?

    Now we have about 40% of youngsters going to something they call `uni' where they pay through the nose with borrowed money for poor facilities and inadequate tutoring for courses that verge on the irrelevant.

    As a consequence graduate unemployment is rising and only the very fortunate get the really top paid jobs in which they learn to rob the taxpayers of their hard-earned.

    I think it is about time we stopped this ramp and returned universities to being dreaming spires rather than vulgar degree-factories. We badly need good education in this country rather than inflated qualifications.

  • Comment number 22.

    It amuses me that people come to this blog and hint towards some sort of social revolution in the offing. Any sort of revolution requires effort and nobody seems to have any energy at all these days. What this Government and some of the major banks have been getting away with of late is absolutely outrageous...but really, Governments and big business have been getting away with murder for years. We all know that. They know we know. But to stand up to it takes effort, it takes getting out of one's comfort zone.

    Yet nothing really seems to be changing because those in control, really in control, can put forward an agenda which makes change very, very tricky indeed, especially when change is going to cost you and me and everybody.

    Free change? Bring it on! Of course, there's no such thing. Free change is simply a euphemism for more of the same. When did we all lose our will to fight for what is patently right?

    I remember reading The Winslow Boy as a child and marvelling at the words "Let Right Be Done!" but now it all seems somewhat whimsical. Nothing wil change, right won't be done - you've only got to look at the case pinned to Megrahi to see that right isn't what the powers that be are interested in. The American Government had vested interests in Syria and Iran, Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait and all of a sudden Syrian forces are fighting beside Americans - best not antagonise a potential oil ally, so let's not do the right thing and attention was turned to Libya. 'Right now', maybe. But not right for generations.

    So, we'll saddle our kids with debt and move on, supporting on our shoulders the very men and women who have ridden on our backs for generations. Our children will judge all of us.

  • Comment number 23.

    john from hendon @ 14

    My view is that students should get a full maintenance grant and have their course fees paid. However, as the country is almost bankrupt, the arithmetic of this means that fewer students will be able to go to university than do now. My preference for a rationing model is to only provide funding for traditional subjects, English, History, Modern Languages, Pure and Applied 'proper' Science, Mathematics and Engineering

    I agree with you, John, and would just tag on one more (extremely important) caveat ... that the state assistance is only available to children who have been to a state school from age 13 to 18

  • Comment number 24.

    'The argument, surely, would be along the lines of saying that a student should pay a price that captures the uplift to his or her earning power from the relevant course and qualification, the private gain, as opposed to the benefit for society.'

    Or, put another way - "go to University because it will increase your earning power - an even bigger chunk of which we're going to take off you".
    How is this supposed to inspire people?
    The point of Universities teaching the top few percent is that we, as a society, benefit from their knowledge. Punitive taxation based on implicit jealousy is insane.

  • Comment number 25.

    RP, big up for managing to get in the phrase worst global recession since 1930's into a discussion into student costs, shame on you for not bring in a banking aspect.

    I'm sure this will make me unpopular but if a family chooses to take a child out of state secondary education then they should pay the full cost of any later university education. Why should the tax payer pay for a privileged education which is not selected on a meritocracy basis.
    If Universities are to benefit the UK and be equitable then imo their students need to be those whose skills will be developed by the highest academic training not those who are out just for a jolly or because there are no alternatives for them.

    I understand your net present value of tax scenario to value university education but this does nothing to alleviate social inequality. You only have to consider that the next government of the country is likely to be run by former bullingdon clique members to see how universities play their part in maintaining the old school boy establishment.

    British industry can help by investing in the country's youth by apprentices, direct training, paying fair wages and genuine career guidance. In my day my friends could not believe that I would chose university over a job, I can't help thinking that the aspiration level for university has reach 50% is due to lack of alternative.

    In terms of research funding I feel it is likely to be tainted if commercially funded. I would have gladly researched the failings of banks but I bet nobody would have funded, assisted or even read it before the credit crunch

    Finally despite the national debt I still believe the young will be left with a comfort of life almost incomparably better than any generation before it, as we have all had. It’s a wonderful world!

  • Comment number 26.

    Brilliant article Robert.

    The 'baby-boomers' have well and truly shafted today's young. Yet, still they scream for MORE!

    A horrible, horrible generation. (The 'boomers' I mean).

  • Comment number 27.

    At 27, having graduated 5 years ago and been in permanent employment for virtually all that time (I worked freelance for a while but the recession made it a little too unstable) I'm still paying back my student debt and will be for some time yet. And that debt is the money I spent on actually attending university (fees, rent etc), rather than the money that kept me in beer for the duration of the course (I had a job to pay for that bit...)

    Yet I'm actually quite lucky, in that students currently pay far more than I did, and in all likelihood will have to pay even more in the future. Even leaving aside the (to me) obvious questions around the 'value' of a degree now compared to a couple of generations ago, this seems a deeply unfair situation. My generation and those that come after me are being bequeathed a legacy of economic, social, cultural and environmental devastation, with the very real prospect that much of the damage done is irreversible.

    To all the older posters therefore (and indeed the doubtless many more reading and nodding in agreement) who say that the younger generation are self-indulgent, overly pandered to, nannyed and disrespectful; to those who claim that the value of grades are lower than in previous years, or that the youth of today are lazy, arrogant and looking for success without any of the requisite hardwork attached, I say:

    Thank you for your honesty - it will make it all the easier when we're in charge of a battered, bloodied planet, and we're all still up to our eyeballs in your debt, to vote 'yes' to the referendum on an involuntary euthanasia bill for all over 65s...

  • Comment number 28.

    I enjoy the concept that degrees are simply handed out when you pay your tuition fees. What this seems to imply is that only people with money should have degrees. Our country prides it self on the fairness of the system we live under but increasing fees will just destroy most universities and therfore more jobs and heritage. I agree there is a problem but i dont think it is the students that should suffer.

  • Comment number 29.

    'The argument, surely, would be along the lines of saying that a student should pay a price that captures the uplift to his or her earning power from the relevant course and qualification, the private gain, as opposed to the benefit for society.'

    The counterargument, however, is that the higher tax burden on those who do earn more due to their graduate education does provide a proportional cost to balance the private gain. Surely this is what is implied by the increacing percentages of the tax brackets. Governments investing in individuals in return for an increace in the tax revenue.

  • Comment number 30.

    "Shouldn't the older generation bequeath them something other than debt?"

    Hell yeah, springs to mind....

    I'm just leaving my 20's and have been lucky enough to buy a flat, but I have a hefty mortgage, not a huge income, not a chance of a pension, and still about £15k in student loans.

    The audacity of todays leaders of industry, who have made their way after free education and the exploitation of others who have since had to pay for it, is shocking.

    Lets see if those who are in this position would agree to raising taxes on their over inflated incomes, shall we?

    Robert - would you be willing to do that to give the younger generation the chances you had?

  • Comment number 31.

    Ridiculous! One of the many things that have to be done to make the UK competitive - and really this is what any future is about - is to make education available to more people and to stop the life-on-debt culture at its very roots - the student loans.

  • Comment number 32.

    Robert, I must say that you raise a particularly valid argument in terms of the social justice that is lacking from the thought process of the CBI. I start university in two weeks time, and will pay the £3,225 tuition fees, along with the accommodation and food costs which will take the yearly fee to well over £10,000. I have no real great urge to attend university as a purely academic pursuit, but due to institutions like the CBI and other business leaders, without a degree there would be no chance of getting into the type of career I want to pursue, such is their insistence on only taking graduates who they then train anyway in their graduate training programme!

    The qualification inflation is somewhat ridiculous and just leads to a majority of students accumulating debts quickly, sounds like GB's government to me... Even a child knows that spending money that you simply don't have is plainy irresponsible and unsustainable. Obviously GB doesn't understand the basic rules of living within ones means, since in numerical terms, he has borrowed, in the past 3 years, more than in the preceeding 300 years combined. Only begrudgingly does he accept that cuts have to occur, leading to certain people such as those at the CBI, or even Ed Balls the education minister to look at the nation's youth as a prime area to be cut- mostly because there is little say as we represent a small percentage of the voters! Then we will have to pick up the tab, great...

  • Comment number 33.

    In the 1960's about 10% of pupils left school for a university education.
    Now the figure is around 50%.

    Educational standards have not improved. High School standards have been dropped, and curricula expanded to include many less challenging subjects.

    The fact is that some university graduates are unfit for work in the big wide world, being unable to spell or write coherently for employment purposes.

    All this so-called education expansion is the result of successive governments trying to improve their images by increasing educational opportunities (of whatever standard).

    No wonder employers baulk at supporting this politically inspired monster.

    If education returns to a "Quality not Quantity" focus, government will soon have the employers back on-side.

  • Comment number 34.

    Surely a better question would be "should students pay their own bills" A resounding yes from me. I paid to study for my degree through OU - what is the difference Robert??

  • Comment number 35.

    What is the problem here - this is one important part of globalisation.

    Get the middle and lower classes into debt as soon as possible. If we have to spend their lives working with their noses to the grindstone they won't be able to see our 'betters' fleecing every penny they can out of us.

    Also, this will undoubtably make profits for big multi-nationals someway.

    How long before you start your life with 'original debt' as soon as you are born?

  • Comment number 36.

    I'm a student. I study a real subject at a real university, just in case anyone is interested, he are my views:

    Linking loan interest rates to government debt interest rates adds uncertainty which would scare off some students. Much better to account for the ongoing subsidy of interest by increasing the amount charged in the first place in the knowledge that the governement will see an expected loss on each loan. Maybe they could provide insentives for early pay-off that would be a win-win for some students (although, granted, not many, since it makes much more sense to have debt at RPI and put down a larger deposit on a house - for example).

    We already charge students for the privilage of university, in the forms of a 40% and now a 50% tax band, for which I am far more likely to endure than students who finish education at 16.

    If the Government does want to raise some revenue and increase our competitiveness and GDP, therefore reducing the relative debt, they can fine students who don't turn up to lectures and abuse the 10k plus subsidy we do still get for education. I'm 100% for that - although I might think differently 8am Monday morning.

  • Comment number 37.

    Is it any wonder graduate unemployment is high, and that the fees will have to go up?

    I mean Robert, El 'Gordo has spent the last 12 years Educashing le dunderheeds with MEDIA STUDIES DEGREES

    LOL, this country is a LAUGHING STOCK!

  • Comment number 38.

    peter @ 25

    well hello there! ... the first person ever, as far as I can recall, to agree with me that the university grant should come back BUT be available only to children who have gone to a state school from age 13 to 18 - always surprised about the lack of support for such a fabulous and progressive idea - I love you

  • Comment number 39.

    From a graduate, and post graduate, from the last year of full maintenance grants I find the current situation appaling.

    Graduates more than pay back their tuition costs/maintenance costs through better wages nd higher tax/NI over their working life. Fact.

    Why should Uni Students, the people who will staff the so-called high-tech/skills economy we are told is the saviour of us, be charged for thier ourse whereas 'thick' people doing ead-end training gt 30 pounds week dumb-money to keep them off the dole ueu.

    Also other unfair courses like Nursing/teaching where the playing field is not level with say Chemistry, Civil Engineering, Accountancy etc - etra inentives or a 'signing on' wedge.

    Too many people in this country
    Too many people at university doing waster courses
    Too much debt.
    Too much red tape
    Too many marketeers
    Too many politicians
    Too much waste of money

    This country needs to 'Downsize' and start living within it's financial and environmental resources, and put UK, Commonwealth and Friendly Nations (USA, Japan, Korea, India, Thailand, Israel) first, and be damned to crazies/religous zealots/dictators/scroungers).

  • Comment number 40.

    I got five As at A-level, in well-regarded subjects, so it seemed reasonable to presume that going to university would be worth it for me. I have chosen to become a pharmacist, so I need to spend 4 years at university at approximately £7k/year. I will therefore graduate with around £30,000 of debt. This is my reward for living incredibly frugally on less than £4,500/year for four years. Have any of you ever tried that? From that money, I need to pay for all of my rent, food, bills, clothes, books, transport, etc.

    Live on £86/week for a year (remember, not £86 disposable per week, £86 in total) and then tell me that I ought to be receiving even more debt. Most of the people complaining that we're being subsidised would spend more at a single lunchtime than I can in a week.

    And in case anyone's curious, here's what the BBC has to say on the poverty line:
    "On 2006/07 figures, that is £112 disposable income a week after paying taxes and housing costs."
    My disposable income is £12/week.

  • Comment number 41.

    15. At 5:58pm on 21 Sep 2009, geofffromleeds wrote:
    .....Robert, in the not too distant future the young will come to hate and despise our baby boomer generation. Not only did we spend their future income by insisting on bringing our own consumption forward using debt,

    Hmmm, If one buys a house (putting a large deposit down), has NO other debts and runs a 1000 banger. How does tyhis person satisfy your 'consumption' theory?

    How does one, consume a house as this is where most of the debt comes from...

  • Comment number 42.

    23. At 6:43pm on 21 Sep 2009, sagamix wrote:
    I agree with you, John, and would just tag on one more (extremely important) caveat ... that the state assistance is only available to children who have been to a state school from age 13 to 18

    Roll on the spiteful jealousy/social engineering card again.
    Students who have been to a Private fee-paying school, have saved the taxpayer thousands over the years not having to educte them.

    Full Uni maintenance grants for all
    Uni Tuition Paid for all
    Decent schools for all.

    Level playing fields.... for ll.

    Tax on Cricket/Rugger next?, as they are 'posh boy' sports ?

    NB I'm a product of a Scottish Comprehensive education, and a full maintenance grant paid education at a proper UK University, not a degree shed.

  • Comment number 43.

    It was our generation which royally messed up the economy with the inadequate governance that led to the credit crunch and the worst global recession since the 1930s ... we're - on the whole - alright Jack, thanks to the accident of when we happen to have been born ... but those leaving school and university today face an altogether bleaker future: a drought of jobs; a bewildering and unappealing set of options for saving and investing; over-priced residential property (even after the "correction"); relentless fearsome competition from India, China, and so on ... and there's the costs of providing a health service and welfare state to sustain an older generation ... so some may well argue that as and when a new government decides to make cuts or increase taxes - to fill the hole in the public finances created by the current generation - its first instinct should probably not be to penalise students ... shouldn't the older generation bequeath them something other than debt?'

    Well put - an excellent article again ... and many great comments from bloggers too. IMHO setting a target of 50% of people going to university is a joke, the CBI comments are a disgrace and the Government need to think very carefully about what they choose to do in this area ... for instance young people also have a choice where they live (n.b. they can move anywhere in the EU without restriction), and if hard-working young people move out of the UK to work elsewhere then there will be few value/wealth creators at all here in the future and no-one to pay the taxes necessary to subsidise any public services at all (or to pay off any of the debts) ... and the whole system will continue a downward spiral ... until widespread social unrest hits the streets ...

    Instead of passing more debt on to future generations, what about introducing a new tax - a 'Land Value Tax'* (which a number of other countries currently have) ... as it's known to be particularly effective at targeting rich landowners who own most of the land, assets & wealth ... as this group can more than afford it, it can't easily be 'passed on' and they also can't avoid it - unlike most/all of the other taxes aimed at them**! It would raise large amounts of tax and would allow other taxes to reduce as a result. It would also push landowners to make more land available for housing - which would partly tackle the over-priced residential property market we still have too. A small fraction of this tax revenue could be used to subsidise free tuition fees and provide maintenance grants (e.g. more 'means-tested' grants) for future generations of value/wealth creators (e.g. so long as they are UK residents and continue to stay in the country). Let's also reduce the number of students going to University from the stupidly high target of 50%, support proper vocational apprenticeships and scrap/replace all the poor quality courses we see today e.g. most of the very expensive, and yet completely flawed, MBA programmes ... which teach students 19th century management practices instead of 21st century management practices (i.e. outdated courses, which partly got us in this mess, and which are often referred to as 'Maybe Best Avoided' - even without all the debt)!

    * take a look at for instance.
    ** NB the Government have allowed 'land' to be one of the very few things exempt from inheritance tax too!

  • Comment number 44.

    Absolutely agree with Peston about the intergenerational inequity arguement. Despite it's apparent rudimentary nature, it should be seriously considered in debate about how to deal with national debt.

    Some of the comments on this blog seem to be slightly ignorant, however. Claiming that eliminating the 'ologies' would do this country any good is ridiculous - Economics in particular!!! To give just one example - knowledge of Economics, coupled with studies of international processes in Politics, Geography and Sociology will be key to understanding Globalisation - THE most fundamental (ongoing) change in human economic and social interaction of modernity - the fact that one can comment on this blog from anywhere in the world is testament itself. An informed position on this phenomenon is key to any country's success over the next few generations, whatever your political stance. Getting rid of subjects such as these would be simply disastrous. Such a move also takes this country towards punishing cultural plurality - not providing funding for certain arts subjects and artistic degrees would be outrageous in my opinion.

    Other comments suggesting that we should return to times of universities of 'dreaming spires' also show so little understanding of what the university system is about and it's history, it's scary that they're suggesting such a fundamental shift. A range of institutions of differing perspectives provides plurality of acquiring knowledge and epistemological advance.

  • Comment number 45.

    A proper reform of the education system was needed in the 90s, instead various governments chose to massively increase the numbers of students going through the system. Since universities saw themselves as businesses, they focused on courses that 18 year olds would sign up to, instead of courses that businesses actually wanted.

    The student loan system is badly thought through and subject to abuse. Accommodation, book costs and fees should have been billed directly to the loans company, instead of paying lump sums into students bank accounts. I know of a child care nurse who will probably never have to pay back her £5000 loan, which she used to buy a car, because she's only on the minimum wage.

    Another issue is how you would quantify "an uplift in earning power". I have an electrical engineering friend who chose to specialise in heavy current ten years ago and work for an energy company. He currently pays higher rate tax. Another electrical engineering friend took a job at a telecoms giant at a similar time, was made redundant several years later and retrained. High salaries are often due to market shortages in unfashionable industries. Energy companies seriously struggled to recruit graduates during the telecoms boom, and many graduates were shed from those same telecoms firms several years later. Given that both of my friends had similar backgrounds and similar degrees, one now earns twice as much as the other. Often it's down to being in the right place at the right time, and luck.

  • Comment number 46.

    Your interpretation of the CBI's comments today is an interesting one, but what about the arts degrees? start charging 5,000+ for those and you'll loose out considerably.

    I like the idea of your generation giving something back. Fancy sponsoring me through the CJS course at Cardiff next year? I've been accepted and currently working in a call centre to pay the £6,000 tuition fees!

  • Comment number 47.

    #32 al2975

    "I have no real great urge to attend university as a purely academic pursuit, but due to institutions like the CBI and other business leaders, without a degree there would be no chance of getting into the type of career I want to pursue, such is their insistence on only taking graduates who they then train anyway in their graduate training programme!"

    This is really at the root of the problem.

    Further education can serve a number of purposes
    1) specialised vocational training (but the world changes so fast these days that it's often out of date within a few years - probably still of value for certain subjects like engineering and medicine)
    2) abstract training of the mind to solve problems etc - the classical view of education. Could in theory apply to any subject, but is probably best done using traditional subjects such as maths,
    history, science etc where the breadth of the subject allows greater scope.
    3) a means of selection for future jobs.

    The educationalists like to think that a University education is all about (2). In reality it is almost all about (3) these days, with a little bit of (1) thrown in for some subjects. Most students go to University, not because they particularly want to broaden their minds, but because it is a requirement of potential employers in order to get any kind of decent job (even those jobs that don't require a broadened mind).

    Businesses would probably be better completely ignoring the often meaningless academic qualifications and running their own intellegence tests to sift out the better candidates. Not sure how many still do this, but I've known a number of companies in the past that took this approach.

  • Comment number 48.

    And for my final point on this blog, what's the point of staying in the UK AT ALL?

    I am getting ripped off, left, right and centre. Or at least I thought I was, nothing compared to what's coming eh?

  • Comment number 49.

    Where does all the money go? It certainly doesn't go on 'teaching' as I understand it.

    I'm just about to go into my 3rd year of my degree. Last year I had 6 hours of contact time a week (several hours more than students I know in other subjects). Teaching occured over 22 weeks out of a possible 52. During a lecture, the lecturer reads aloud a powerpoint presentation that is available on the intranet anyway. These are written several years beforehand and are edited marginally each year to keep up to date.

    So I personally pay £3,225 tuition fees for 132 hours of teaching. By this reasoning, each student in my lecture theatre is paying £24.43 per hour long lecture. 200 people attend the lecture.

    But I'm one of the lucky ones - half the students in the year below me only get to see their lecturers via videolink because the university is so money hungry it takes on more students than it can accomodate. They are converting single rooms into twin rooms for this years freshers.

    So, I ask again, where does all the money go? University is not value for money.

  • Comment number 50.

    Whilst I can see their point, even if firms (who have no money) take on and sponsor students and then graduates, very few of them will be able to apply their knowledge to making things. Just one example look at James Dyson , the hoops he had to jump through no one would touch him. So what we will end up with is the cream being scooped up and sold into slavery and sold to the highest bidder.

    You make no mention of medical students, are they no part of the great plan ?

    Now I agree far too many folk go to university today, to do worthless degrees. But they were in part encouraged to go as they were told as I was told , get a degree, it sets you apart from the others when looking for a job.

    And why do universities need to put their fees up, they do well already from what I have witnessed from their property, fees, and their part in being a landlord.

    Are there any CBI leaders directors of any of the University campus accommodation sites ? Their charges are eye watering

  • Comment number 51.

    Students should learn how to live on a shoestring. Alcohol is not a necessity. Austerity is a good thing when you're young- it toughens you up. Students today think that blagging some dosh off your folks is survival. Welcome to reality- it couldn't come soon enough.
    Grants were suitable in the 70's and 80's when a far smaller proportion of the population went to university or polytechnic. There's no way a government can afford to send the whole population to university- so someone else has to help pay-either the student,their family or business.
    Excuse the pun but far too much has been taken for granted.

  • Comment number 52.

    some posters make me smile.....

    14 My preference for a rationing model is to eliminate all courses that are 'ologies' (see the ancient BT advert with Maureen Lipman) and only provide funding for traditional subjects, English, History, Modern Languages, Pure and Applied 'proper' Science, Mathematics and Engineering. (I include economics in the list of 'ologies' which, for the time being, we cannot afford. If economists hadn't wreaked the world's economy I might have had a more sympathetic attitude!)

    I graduated in Economics in 1986 and have not had a single day unemployed since. Yes, I have been lucky but have also worked hard and had difficult times, including redundancy recently and negative equity in the 1990's. In all that time I have paid plenty of tax and do not begrudge a penny. Unfortunately, now 50% of people go to uni - not the 10% back then. So, if people want to go we will need to dig deep to pay. I do feel that those who are now coming out of uni need to remember that 40% of them would not have had the chance to go in the 80's. I went to school with many people who would have liked to go - but did not get the chance. So to imply that we are all tight is maybe a little unfair!

    18 Seeing as there will be no jobs for the 500,000 uni students who graduate each year, for at least the next 10 years, it probably makes sense to chop the numbers and if the way if doing that is by upping the fees so be it

    Another lost generation

    Of all the absurd posts this takes the biscuit. How do you know that there will be no jobs for graduates for 10 years (note no jobs - not a single one!). It seems to me that we have gone from the one extreme of ‘boom forever’ to the other extreme - the bad times are here forever. As an economist, I suspect that this is little different to other times we have been through. Yes it will be difficult but if businesses stay calm and watch what they do, they will survive and continue to be able to supply goods and services and employ people. Certainly that is what I spend my days trying to make happen. Hopefully others will as well.

  • Comment number 53.

    The government should be working flat out to encourage those of us with five star index linked pensions to drink, smoke and generally abuse our bodies. Then we will pass away quickly, ensuring that the pension providers, the treasury, and our futureless, unemployed (but well educated) children can cash in our houses, have the proceeds heavily taxed and pay off their debts.

    If this was adopted along with assisted suicide and conscription for the over 45s, the UK could be out of debt in a few hundred years!

    By the way the new UK trade initative to sell weapons of mass murder to our former sworn enemies is a real winner - a totally unexploited market.

  • Comment number 54.

    I was a Training Manager in the electronics industry nearly 30 years ago. At that time we had the Engineering Industry Training Board (EITB). Companies had a choice, they either spent a fixed percentage of turnover on training and development or they paid a levy at that level. Unfortunately Maggie Thatcher stopped it, apart from construction.

    Whilst that structure was primarily focused on internal training (apprentices, graduates and management) it also covered graduate sponsorship. A wider application of such a system across the whole range of industries could be used to increase student sponsorship in those areas of most use to commerce.

    But I suppose in this crazy world all that is far too logical.

  • Comment number 55.


    Student loans are not repayable until the graduate starts to earn 16,000 pounds or more.
    Given that a lot of them will come out into an unfairly competitive jobs market a lot of them will end up on minimum wage.
    The only way we are going to get the money back is to increase the minimum wage to greater than 16,000
    (and how the CBI will squeak)

  • Comment number 56.


    Nothing in the public sector is value for money. The Home Office is not fit for purpose. I wouldn't trust the MoD to procure my lavvy paper. The Student Loans Company can't be trusted to give away money. And if I ever visit London I will be very vary of the cops.

    For too long a job in the public sector has been a job for life, no matter how much you make a mess.

    This will not improve until we get a Thatcher for the Civil and Other Public Services.

  • Comment number 57.

    A really excellent blog, Robert, and your last sentence sums it up perfectly.

    Tony Blair and Gordon Brown's education policy has turned out to be a complete con.

    They come up with a so-called brilliant idea, which needless to say is based around a 'target' - "hey, Gordo, 50% of school leavers going to university, how does that sound?". Then they realise three things:
    a. the only way they can achieve this is by dumbing down everything - school exams and university exams, everything.
    b. it ends up costing far too much money
    c. the only way to pay for it all is by forcing students to take out huge amounts of debt.

    Bad, bad, bad result. Topsy turvy thinking and a really dumb plan from the start.

    Quite apart from anything else this gets people into the habit from a very young age of borrowing money first and paying back later, when we are trying to persuade people to forgo early consumption, save first and then spend once the money is in the bank (...... that savings ratio in Europe/US compared to China/Far East anyone?)

    Yes, no question that education must be free - the Lib Dems have the right idea.

    (PS I thought you should have declared your own cards, Robert as in Balliol College, Oxford, and ex FT Finance Editor and Sun Tel Business Editor).

  • Comment number 58.

    #49 You are right - my generation has learned the price of everything (and everyone) and forgotten the meaning of "value".

    My generation, and that's the CBI's generation, discovered North Sea oil and gas (as a student I worked on the surveying) and then we blew it all in less than 40 years. It was just party-time over and over again. All "money and mammon", as one of my friends said to me.

    I fear revolt is your only answer - it's the only way your generation and those that follow will get anything back.

  • Comment number 59.

    Dontcha ya´ll see: We have the spent at least the last 30 years deskilling the economy. Yet we want more people to go to university. Why is this, and how does this add up?

    Maybe it is just providing occupation for the young, whilst simultaneously offering them false hope and tying them into the debt treadmill.

    Now out come the CBI saying quite overtly lets turn the screw on the student population.

    There was a time when students were politically aware and could be expected to seek to defend themselves. Now they just send text messages to each other bemoaning their debt levels.

    When will people wake up? - If you are not willing to fight you are going to get screwed into the ground. If you are a student, understand this - the clear plan is to screw you into the ground for the rest of your lives.

    If you sit back and take it, can you really complain? They are telling you that you are the best and the brightest. You are telling them the exact opposite, and oh how they laugh at your self induced ingnorance and impotence.

  • Comment number 60.

    I agree that our generation had a great start - and blew it. But I do not understand the current policy on university. My degree was pretty useless (modern languages - reading old books mainly). What we need is a bit less of that and a bit more vocational education and training. Why not make a degree free to people who use their local university? And why not bring back technical colleges, which are accessible to people who are in work. Pottering about Oxford in the 60s, reading Goethe and Hugo, was super - but I doubt that the country has got its money back from me. Sorry.

  • Comment number 61.

    Its so hypocritical of politicians like Balls et al to play the "students have got to pay card", when these guys had free top class education. These people just do not live in the real world. By the way if you have got a child going to university expect it to cost circa 12k per annum now all in (more if its a course like medicine). Tuition fees are 3k+ plus a student loan (sliding scale) of say 4k plus top up from Bank of Mum and Dad of 4/5k.
    The amount of debt we are in is astronomical and our children will be paying it off when they are working soon enough. Balls and his Chums wants to crank up the cost whilst they are at University as well- its pathetic.

  • Comment number 62.

    #21 Stallinic


    Eloquent and straight to the point as usual.

  • Comment number 63.

    neil @ 42

    students who have been to a private fee paying school have saved the taxpayer thousands over the years not having to educate them

    that's a very generous way of looking at it, I must say - a slightly more hard boiled interpretation is that their parents (by opting for that) are perpetuating a deeply damaging cycle of inequality, and the result is talent wasted on a colossal scale - it's not the Politics of Envy (oh hackneyed phrase) in play here, it's empirical common sense - talking, as you do, about taxing rugger and cricket is only to trivialise the issue - you're not engaging with it properly - likewise declaiming "decent schools for all" ... meaningless platitude, I'm afraid, without the necessary measures to bring it about ... no, we need to make some radical changes, otherwise we'll just carry on drawing our political and business "leaders" from an absurdly narrow pool - and we've seen how competent they all are ... haven't we, Neil?

  • Comment number 64.

    Good Evening Mr Peston and to all of your contributors; What a splendid topic, it really lit some fires under the nethers of your readers.

  • Comment number 65.

    60. rskippo wrote:

    'but I doubt that the country has got its money back from me. Sorry.'

    I don't know, rational, well punctuated, grammatically correct and no spelling mistakes, what more do we want from a university education. I'm sure that you also know the correct spelling of lose as opposed to the current crop who seem to think it is spelt loose.

    (lose is what happens to your memory after a night on the lash, loose is what your belt is when your trousers fall down)

  • Comment number 66.

    The problem would appear to lie in the culture of our lords and masters who have neither experienced the state education system, or likely not had their Oxbridge place given to them by proxy of their public school. Increasingly we are told that the Balls of this world are high flyers meriting our defference and admiration, yet they continue to make decisions on the publics behalf based upon their limited world-view. Blunkett had such a bad education as a visually-impaired student that he through his sheer willpower alone became a Sheffield Councillor, M.P. and Minister, quite a recommendation for his education most would have thought. Yet as soon as he is Minister for Education he brings in legislation that places a whole range of problems unto a state education system little prepared for the influx of specialist needs. Mr Balls makes statements concerning reorganising the state education system that strata of management can be removed; large organisations merged all without repercussions for the teacher and the students. Ignorance is a wonderful thing when your a politician, you may or may not seek advice from civil servants (who in the main have had limited experience of the state system); educationalists in their ivory towers who since the Thatcher initiative of the market place strife for funding above understanding. Truely great leaders stand on the shoulders of others and in education a swathe of research and understanding is treated as an inconvenient truth, money does not drive the world (even bankers should now be able to understand that).

    Thirty years ago this country was taken into the moneterist garden with promises of greater personal control, yet the hidden weed was greed that strangled the blossoms and fruit. The CBI and its pampered bastions of industry (what industry) with inflated salaries, protectionist remuneration packages, unsustainable pensions now think that those who wish to gain the larger portion of the rewards (that graduate qualification perports to provide) should pay more in fees and interest on their debt (demonstrating their ignorance of the very thing that has brought the country to its present condition - excessive debt).

    An Italian social philosopher, whilst in a Facist prison, pondered the disparity in social conditions and why the status quo continued unabated, and proposed the notion of hegomony. That those of privilege must believe they are so because they have earnt it, and those unprivileged must believe they are so because they did not make the appropriate effort/sacrifice. When Jenny Lee championed the Open University the underprivileged were given an opportunity to become upwardly mobile, graduate status became available to an ever inceasing number of the previously disenfranchised. Polytechnics and larger Further Education Colleges (with an element of Higher Education) then gained University status - because the bastions of industry were crying out for more and more graduates. Not because they had a need for the higher educational standards provided, but because they saw it as a cheaper option than training their own staff. Head hunting is now the norm within commerce and banking, overpay for candidates that have experience and knowledge gained elsewhere. Sounds familiar in the Banking sector where wonderkind were grabbed from retail and commodities to bring the promised quick buck.

    While we persist with a two tier system that enables privilege to replace merit, where the hegomony is that selection makes for good education, when it is merely a vehicle for lazy educators, the fact that public schools do not get 100% grade As in everything reflects the paucity of talent having chosen the supposed top 5% of the population. As with Galton in the 19th century we confuse hegomony with meritocracy, the generations of lawyers, military officers, doctors, judges, university professors, politicians are reflections of restrictive practices that inculcate our social order. Balls and the CBI now continuing the path set by Thatcher want to place wealth as another barrier to a truely meritocric society. It is interesting that the number of middle-class bancrupcies increased in the early years of student debt as middle-class graduates cottoned onto the notion that the money owed after uni. could be wiped clean through an accounting nicety.

    In France and Germany the process of university education is seen as a hard struggle to both gain access and successfully achieve. Graduates are seen as a resource not a commodity, schools as advancing social cohesion not delineating the haves and the never to haves. In both countries the school education is both developmentally structured (in that you learn to write and read with basic arithmetic before anything else) and broad in its compass. Students have a far greater knowledge of their own culture and that of others, how many European children are not relatively fluent in at least two languages. Education is seen to be above politics, only in Britain (and America) is it allowed to play with the future generations as it does in England and Wales. National curricula are seen as sacrosanct, not annually modified to suit some political statement of outcome, school organisation is strong with state taking precidence over private (in France if you choose to go private the privilege is only in the amount you pay). Oxbridge the bastion of English education with selection of the few from the even fewer, with private schools representing 60%+ of intake, providing a disproportionate number of politicians (and bastions of industry and banking) acting as a gentlemens' club of access to power and control. Of all public servants in this country only the police do not have graduate only intake, increasingly these institutions influence the fabric of our society, yet increasingly they restrict access to the larger portion of the population. I do not argue for weakening stringent entry requirements, but I would argue that the selection goes far deeper when candidates of equal qualification are segregated by means that are not open to public scrutiny - any institutions obtaining public funds should be liable to such scrutiny. Famously a London Medical School in computerising its application scrutiny revealed its concealed racism in excluding candidates with non-Anglo/Europen names (I believe the Racial Equality Board had some later input into their selection criteria).

    As we tumble into moral decay of greed, protectionist nepotism while the bulk of society is asked to stump up the pain and suffering the actions of the Fat Cat CBI and the sumbling Balls merely indicate the total disregard these people have for the rest of us.

    I wonder what the educational background of Mr Peston and colleagues would turnout to be - the danger is that control also entails what can or cannot be discussed as relevant.

  • Comment number 67.

    I was at University in the early 60s. I finished in heavy debt and it marked me for years. I was a miser and lacking in generosity. I could see it in myself and did not like it, but lacked the willpower to break clear till I was over 50.

    I paid my own children's university costs in full. They are now kind and generous adults in their late 30s. I am very proud of them.

    Going purely on my own personal experience, I say do not contemplate this path of making students pay more and more. It will mark them as it marked me.

  • Comment number 68.

    Children whose parents paid for them to go to secondary school should pay the same fees as they paid at their schools for their University education. Children who paid no fees, i.e. went to state schools, should not pay fees.

  • Comment number 69.

    #52 blogjt Are you poster #14 in disguise? As you certainly make his point for him!

    You write "As an economist, I suspect that this is little different to other times we have been through"

    Maybe you should abandon suspicion and concentrate more on analysis. So pray tell the people when was the last time that the worlds largest economy with a GDP of about $15 trillion attempted to rescue an entire banking sector when just one bank (JP Morgan) has a derivatives balance sheet of $87 trillion.

    But don´t worry everything is hedged - apart the bits that aren´t. Like the bits with China when the Chinese government has authorised its companies to default on derivatives obligations with foreign banks should it not be in their commercial interests to settle.

    If you are an economist then I am pumpkin.

  • Comment number 70.

    What I always found odd about the Blairite proposition was that it was projected that "university graduates earn a lot more, so they should be happy to pay".

    That was undoubtedly true when only a small percentage of young people went to Uni. Many wen into fairly specialised (hence high demand) jobs. Some went straight into - or worked rapidly towards - management positions.

    It just seems rediculous to assume that the UK economy will create every more high-paying jobs simply to match the number of graduates available. Typically Blairite/Brownite economics.

    20 years ago I was hiring graduates into what were effectively call-centre roles. (And some had a fairly limited grasp of the core discipline they waved around as qualifications. And that was way before Universities introduced remedial classes for first-years to make up for deficiencies from the secondary tier of education!)

  • Comment number 71.


    You paint a depressing picture for students today - I doubt it was any better for many of the older bloggers in their day. Rubbish accomodation at Uni [heating was an optional extra], no spare cash then when you started work you had to wait for your turn to be promoted as the union stranglehold dictated who was promoted and when.

    However I do lament the passing of the grant, as it was a great leveller for all social backgrounds but the bottom line is we cannot afford that system for the present number of students.

    I would however favour subsidising selected "useful" degrees and encouraging people studying the "oligies" to study at their local unis.

  • Comment number 72.

    "Joining the CBI gives you the opportunity to directly influence the legislation that affects your business.
    Our credibility and reputation for lobbying are unsurpassed. The CBI strives to ensure the best conditions for your business to prosper."
    Taken directly from the CBI Website.

    So, you can see that they are far from objective, no more than the taxpayer's alliance. It would be nice if they could concentrate on keeping their own house in order instead of having a pop at students. One has to wonder about the politics in raising this now, at the start of the 'conference season', perhaps they are merely attempting to deflect the media from the Liberals attempts to raise taxation through a higher rate on £1m plus properties and higher incoome taxes which will hit CBI members hard.

    Having benefited from a grant aided education at a Poly in the 70's I came out of it with a vocational degree, debt free and have been employed by the same organisation for 33 years, today. I have supported my two sons through a combined 9 years at excellent Universities and whilst one should find no difficulty paying off his student loan as a solicitor within a few years the other will struggle to clear his debt as a history teacher and struggle to afford to buy a house for maybe a decade.

    To suggest that students pay more now is ludicrous. The rich should pay more on their bonuses and basic pay packages.

  • Comment number 73.

    I do agree that some students should pay much more closely what their courses cost if we are to retain tuition fees, becuase it is an untruth that all courses cost the same

    On that basis, therefore, all doctors, dentists, vets etc will have to pay back proportionately more as they are likely to earn more, but their cost of training is also substantially more

    This policy, however, will be resisted but has its equivalent in the US

    In fact I suspect that a policy which I would like to be introduced is "education - free at the point of use" and that would apply across all age ranges. It would mean that our society would never be ashamed about "missing" schooling, because it could always be caught up

    On top of this, however, there must be opportunity because there is little point in churning out graduates when they are simply moved into the burger flipping jobs and thus deny the possibility of less educated people advancing or jobs

    There must also be opportunity for people who wish to be gas fitters, plumbers and other artizans because the rest of the economy rely upon these positions

    The problem that I see with your prognostications Robert, however, is the scheme you propose relies upon selection of the best from an education system where such is shunned by all but the private sector. How do you select the best when the exam systems do not produce those results?

  • Comment number 74.

    'And why not bring back technical colleges, which are accessible to people who are in work.'

    You don't need technical colleges, a large proportion of Universities will allow people who are currently in work to study for a degree part-time.

  • Comment number 75.

    66. honestgeraldinho wrote:

    I'm not usually lost for words but in this case, well put.

  • Comment number 76.

    Good Evening Mr Peston and to all of your contributors.

    What a splendid theme, it truly lit some fires under the nethers in some quarters, and rightly so. It was interesting to note the divide between graduate/non-graduate and the saner solutions to this dilemma. I particularly warmed to the idea of rationalising the output to 'pure' degrees, eg Maths, Eng.Lit/Lang, THE Sciences, History, Geography (NB: the subject that deals with topography, rivers, oceans, the World - do you get the picture?), and filtering out all of the 'social' degrees eg media studies, PT or PE, management etc from the 'Spires' and confining them to the second tier of 'Unis' that were formerly called 'Poly's'.
    I know that these statements might be construed as inflammatory, in a non-pyrotechnic sense, but is that not what debate is about? I am going to dangle a second piece of rabbit fodder now and I do so as a man, long-retired, who screwed up my secondary education and thus did not have the opportunity even to apply to a University. (My long-suffering father, a senior Engineering Officer in the Royal Air Force, aspired to my placement at Oxbridge, or at least London). Instead, I joined the Royal Air Force as Aircrew and through the rigorous academic and physical training pursued a half-decent career therein; I use that term to qualify my remunerations and accommodations over 30 years - the flying and world travel were of the very best, if not, the best and most assuredly priceless.
    Here is my point; during most stages of initial and periodic/refresher training, examinations for promotion etc, all Military Services ensure most personnel, if not all, can write well. That does not mean in an A A Milne style of whimsey, or the Bard's sense of antiquity and drama, heaven forbid, but to show the ability to construct a sentence, to spell correctly and punctuate effectively; above all to convey the message without let of misunderstanding or lack of comprehension. It was pertly named 'ABC': Accuracy, Brevity, Clarity. It therefore saddens me that upon reading the comments to your article I stumble through most of them because of an astonishing lack of the aforementioned, some from 'Posters'. ( I like that, I had to study the word and context several times before I cottoned-on; as I said, I didn't go to Uni.....)
    How do the QCA and other marking bodies cope? On the evidence herein and in other forums, the low level of literacy reflects badly not only on the individual, but also on the entire education system. It demonstrates a lack of care and pride in one's work - who is not to say that this may also be the case in the individual's work ethic? I rest my case. I rest my pen and my arms, but for one final barb - have so few of your contributors heard of 'Spell-check'? Only as a last resort of course.

  • Comment number 77.

    66. honestgeraldinho wrote

    (very eloquently) 'any institutions obtaining public funds should be liable to such scrutiny'

    Any public body spending public money and any private body receiving public money should publish (at time of spend or receipt) exactly how much has changed hands and what for.
    For too long we have heard of 'Commercial Confidentiality' in public/private dealings, local authorities holding meetings 'in camera'. If they are spending public (my) money then they should publish it so that we (I) can see that it is money well spent.

    Quangos (including educational ones) of various types reinvent themselves as 'not for profit' LTD. companies which means that they are exempt from the FOI act and can spend our (my) money as they see fit without let or hinderence.

    This Must Stop.

    Only when PUBLIC MONEY is PUBLICLY ACCOUNTABLE can we (as the public) make a decision as to where this money will be spent in the future.

    Cuz I'm pretty sure that WE (as the public) are being RIPPED OFF on all fronts be it education, health, defence, overseas aid.......

  • Comment number 78.

    geraldinho @ 66

    indeed so - well drafted and worth the effort

  • Comment number 79.

    Robert - this post is both insightful and challenging - and raises the real moral issues faced today*. Given this I was hoping you'd be the person covering this subject on the ten o-clock news too. Disappointing you were not - as the real issue you've quite rightly raised here was not addressed. Keep up the good work - you're doing a great job challenging what needs to be challenged ... when most others are either missing the point, or preferring to generate a quick headline and gloss of the real issues (e.g. 'Shouldn't the older generation bequeath them something other than debt?')

    David Clift, Future 500 Leader

  • Comment number 80.

    #59 armagediontimes

    It was easy to protest when the worst that would befall you was a bit of teargas and a cracked skull (on the day of the event)

    Today, the POT act means that participation in any event not sanctioned by the state can be prosecuted years after the event on the flimsiest of evidence, coercion both overt and covert is rife, this government and the state apparatus is out of control (but with the best of intentions)


    You are not welcome.

    Students are there to study not protest.

  • Comment number 81.

    At last we are getting to the core of what has gone wrong in UK economy and society.

    A high tax welfare state (including good pensions) and high family home prices cannot exist together. As a pair they are unaffordable.

    Across society, those whose agreement was needed to create a high house price economy, all voted and influenced for their own enrichment while watching their grandchildren and those of their secretaries, being put in to creches at a few months old. Be they newsnight editors, senior bankers or our friend's parents, greed consumed them and still does. We owe them nothing.

    In the coming years, whatever the mechanism, wages will grow relative to house prices and savings. The generation who exploited their own children, dependant on savings and house prices, will be on the recieving end of the values their own actions created in their children.

  • Comment number 82.


    The generation who exploited their own children, dependant on savings and house prices, will be on the recieving end of the values their own actions created in their children.

    Sow and ye shall reap.

    One day all those hoodies and ASBO kids will be in charge, and we will be old, helpless and at their mercy, it's a good job we instilled the values of loyalty, compassion etc. into them.

  • Comment number 83.

    Students should not pay the bills created by the older generations. The mortgage lending banks, flanker bankers still on telephone number salaries, and economic chiefs e.g. Lambert and Brown must take responsibility, and act on that responsibility. Students must not be expected to bail the 'oldies' from what is quite clearly the mess they created. Students have enough debt as it is due to disproportianally inflating fees - we need to work as a country, not look at one group, to pay the bills.

  • Comment number 84.

    My God, what monsters have we bred ?

    'Thank you for your honesty - it will make it all the easier when we're in charge of a battered, bloodied planet, and we're all still up to our eyeballs in your debt, to vote 'yes' to the referendum on an involuntary euthanasia bill for all over 65s...'

    'Across society, those whose agreement was needed to create a high house price economy, all voted and influenced for their own enrichment while watching their grandchildren and those of their secretaries, being put in to creches at a few months old. Be they newsnight editors, senior bankers or our friend's parents, greed consumed them and still does. We owe them nothing.

    'In the coming years, whatever the mechanism, wages will grow relative to house prices and savings. The generation who exploited their own children, dependant on savings and house prices, will be on the recieving end of the values their own actions created in their children.'

    They don't need to protest, they have time on their side.

  • Comment number 85.

    Morning Robert,
    may I ask what this blog has to do with bankers or banking?
    I would like to make the following observations:-
    1) If the Conservatives had proposed the tuition fee system, there would have been a lot of opposition from the CBI but as it was Labour who introduced this system, well they are all pretty straight kinda guys,aren't they?
    The system hasn't achieved Labour objectives (al la Comprehensive Education) so it should be dismantled forthwith.
    If anyone in Government states that we (as a nation) can't afford something like University education, please remind them how much they are throwing away supporting a failed banking system.
    2) I was at university at a time when a certain Jack Straw was NUS president. He called for a general student strike to complain about the unfairness of the "parental contribution" system that was then in operation. My, how times change now he is a Government minister!
    The old system before student loans company was formed worked, and worked well, if one applied oneself (I managed to get a company grant to help me pay my bills).
    I left university with no debt largely because credit cards weren't available to students and I did a sandwich course which allowed one to earn as well as study.
    The stewardship of education under Labour government has not produced positive results at any level and I fear that the employment prospects of new graduates will be dire (as it was in the early 70's).
    So what's to be done? I see nothing positive in the CBI recommendations but as we found recently, the Conservative party supports the Labour party when education is debated in The House.

  • Comment number 86.

    If I arrived in the Dragons Den with a proposal: Give me £142,000 over my lifetime of the next fifty years (about £3,000 a year) and I will boost the economy. The Dragons might consider it and then, presuming they were not out for whatever soundbite, take 50% of whatever I make. That is the scenario the CBI is pitching for: 50% of whatever graduates make. But what the CBI ignore is that the Graduates are the Dragons investing in themselves.

    It is not a matter of intergenerational justice but, mor profoundly, of fundamental justice. People are being coralled into education, charged to be there and then given - frankly - no return on their investment. Why should they do it?

    The CBI and the Balls Peston Generation need the creation of a vital, dynamic and thriving economy that can be provided by a younger generation of graduates working hard and sustaining the lifelong bubble of privilege that the Baby Boomer Generation has. Whichever way the Younger Generation is manipulated - because the Older Generation is most definitively "in charge" (although not in control) and arranging the situation to suit themselves. Regardless of future generations. Regardless of the issue being Intergenerational Justice or a moer Fundamental Justice, the Balls Peston generation is ensuring that the burden of financial obligation - that magical £43,000 of debt we all have from the "Profit Crunch" subsidy - does not fall to them.

    An old fashioned Marxist might comment about the resurgence of class. A more jaded voice would point out that the ruling class is of a generation.

  • Comment number 87.

    'Across society, those whose agreement was needed to create a high house price economy, all voted and influenced for their own enrichment while watching their grandchildren and those of their secretaries, being put in to creches at a few months old. Be they newsnight editors, senior bankers or our friend's parents, greed consumed them and still does. We owe them nothing.'

    These people will be holding the reigns of power in twenty years time.

    This is very, very frightening,

    where was I when personal freedoms in the UK were being eroded, safe behind 'boom and bust abolished'.
    Where was I when WMD were claimed in Iraq, did I attend the David Kelly funeral, did I stand up for the Guildford Four, did I stand up for anything, NO

    Am I ashamed as to what has been done in my name, YES.

    Am I to blame for what has been done in my name, YES.

    Because I am weak in the face of overwhelming opposition I have allowed these things to be done in MY name, extraordinary rendition, enhanced interrogation, TORTURE, in my name, the list goes on.

    That I could be threatened with any of these things on UK soil using UK law without having done anything wrong but to question their merit has meant that I have not had the courage to stand up to those who IN MY NAME would use those powers against ME and my kin

    Just what kind of legacy are we leaving for our young ?

    What is wrong with the people in power ?

    How can I hold my head up high in front of a youth who legitimately claims 'What have you ever done for me, grandpa?'

    What ?

    Sorry Son, I did nothing,

  • Comment number 88.


    So children parents who have no faith whatsoever in the state system, who scrape together and sacrifice to get their children a better education than the state can provide, should be penalised in further education. And this is "equality"?

    Well that's mighty fair, I'll say.

    So I guess private tuition out of hours should be banned too? That's not fair.
    And parents helping their kids learn by getting them interested in academic matters should be prevented from doing so too I suppose? After all, not everyone's parents do that so it would be unfair!

    Where is the line, and why exactly do you feel that children should not be able to benefit from the hard work and love of their parents?

    Your poisonous, jealous sort of thinking is exactly what leads us to the New Labour school of though. A race to the bottom, because anyone getting a good education based on the blood sweat and tears of their parents is obviously over-0privileged and should be punished.

    Retrogressive horse-puckey.

  • Comment number 89.

    Hey Pesto !

    Ok lets wave the magic redistribution of wealth wand from those of us who benefited in these greedy times and maybe at the same time swap the roles of those Oxbridge types in banking with those in politics.
    Then instead of having people of so called conviction but with no ability to improve the nations wealth we will have people with no conviction but with great ability to improve the nations wealth.

  • Comment number 90.

    Our nation does incredibly well, turning out armies of educated morons. Let well enough alone.

  • Comment number 91.

    # 69 - # 69 welcome pumpkin – you must be looking forward to Halloween.

    The point is that shocks happen. I could name many but the oil crisis of the 70’s or the dot com boom are good examples. Many people argued that those were the end of our way of life but we came through them all. Yes they are tough and we need to make sure that we learn some real lessons from each. But the idea that this is Armageddon is in my view well over the top. We will live through this recession and move on. Many of the vitriolic comments on this and other blogs are driven by a political attempt to knock the government. While, in some ways, that is justified it does not help in a mature debate on the real lessons that need to be learnt and the real actions which need to be taken.

  • Comment number 92.

    So if your generation royally messed up to leave us (me too) with a bleak future, when the rich ones from that generation retire early (which would be around now), we twenty-somethings should be entitled to some restitution from the pension pot.

    In an ideal world of course!

  • Comment number 93.

    I remember the good old days when the Director General of the CBI was a captain of industry (you know where they actually make things) having worked their way up through the company organisation and in some cases actually built up a company from scratch. Now we have this chap Lambert who has worked at the keyboard as a newspaper hack, done a sabatical at Harvard and was appointed onto the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee.

    Yes I can see that he would fully understand what UK industry needs ... not. So he wants bigger loans when the Student Loan company is struggling to find the money to loan this year's intake! And the SLC is struggling as last year's graduates and those before have not all found work at a salary level that would enable them to start paying off their loans.

    We are back to what started the credit Crunch in the first place - too much debt not being paid back. This burden will also curtail this generations's consumption patterns which in turn prolongs the recession. If this is what constitutes logical thinking, then I am afraid that it is time to confine the CBI to the scrapheap.

    Dumb and dumber encapsulates neatly these two Oxford graduates.

  • Comment number 94.

    Three questions

    1 If you earn more following a degree you will pay more tax so why do you pay now as well?

    2 If you can benefit from additional education you pay but if you benefit from affitional health care either because of genetic or lifestyle factors you don't even if you can afford to. Why?

    3 The state used to collect tax and then deide how to spend it, so motoring taxes aren't all spent on roads. Now, in addition to this approach the state collects tax ia specifi charges. Does this reveal anyting other than the inability of the state to properly allocate the tax it collects to the places it wants to spend it?

  • Comment number 95.

    #14 John-from-Hendon

    Normally enjoy what you have to say but this was too personal

    First degree = geOLOGY (that's a full science with lots of engineering and maths)

    Professional training degree = hydrOLOGY (maths, physics and engineering)

    Paid for in full without state aid or parental monies and NO debt in strike ridden '70's. Worked 15-20hr/wk plus all holidays (when not on compulsory field-work trips).

    Not that its helping me much right now.....

  • Comment number 96.

    #87 I whole heartedly agree, it's time to make a difference and blow the establishment totally out of the water.

    Personally speaking I will hope and pray for people not to vote for ANY of the major parties. They were all sitting there doing nothing but rake in the cash while the economy bubbled, WMD didnt exist, war after war, mass immigration, a coordinated destruction of English culture and our manufacturing industry decimated (still being decimated ala Mandy).

    On education no one will grab the bull by the horns and state that the majority learnt in this so called education system is USELESS and politically BIASED.

    Why should anyone pay for jumping pointlessly through hurdle after hurdle only to find in the work place they dont have a skill set worth squat ?

    The education system should be dismantled, thrown in the dustbin, those that have created it should be thrown out of the country and a new work based skills system should be created. Tests should be banned unless the career being aimed for requires a great deal of information to be retained - for example a Cabby or a Pilot. All other careers paths should be based on results - ie Can the student do the task at hand ? Of course this would require a close relationship with business.

    The education system as it stands specifcally gives teachers and the rich the ideal avenue to progress their children to the top of the career tree - the other children who are too niave don't even realise what is going on and aren't even unaware they are being held back by those supposedly "teaching" them.

    Like so much in the UK the education system is not fit for purpose other than serving the education system itself - utterly pointless and useless.

    As regards who should pay ??? What morals does our dear so called "Prime Minister" have ? A Scott making the English pay through the nose while those in Scotland get free education. Never mind the other oldies in power who have ALL had the opportunity of free university education.

    Get ALL of these self serving corrupt MP's out yesterday, it wouldn't be soon enough.

  • Comment number 97.

    I agree with a previous comment that moving from the home environment into university lifestyle is the best possible start to an adult life for many people. However.... I cannot help but think that with a little more study each year by students we could reduce the burden of debt on young people by shortening course duration by a year or more without any reduction in quality.

  • Comment number 98.

    gothnet @ 88

    no, it's not driven by envy, it's about equality of opportunity and raising standards - our obsession with private schooling is very peculiar (to us) and, what's more, it's very peculiar

  • Comment number 99.

    I suspect most people agree that the 50% rate is a nonsense not least because it means that half the population are going to know that they are going to pay towards the education of the "elite" 50%, all of whom would expect to earn more than those who dont go to uni.

    The second point is that a huge number of the 50% who do go are going to become tremendously disillusioned if the degree they achieve does not turn out not to be all that it was cracked up to be in future job opportunities or earning power and they are saddled with a huge debt for the privilege.

    The third point is that a lot of children who go to uni are going because it is the aspiration of their parents - hardly a basis for a successful outcome given how stroppy young people can be in their late teens (rightly so as they seek to make their own decisions).

    When I was at Grammar Schoool in the 1940s it was closer to 20% and the route to Uni was clearly defined. It was exclusive and a lot of great people were excluded. The fact that I didnt go on having won a scholarship was my own fault. Oddly, I think I did better than I would have done had I got a degree in those days - enrolled into CIMA by the army as a mature student at age 29, qualified as a Chartered Management Accountant in two years and ended up as a Senior Civil Servant. With not an O or A level to my name.

    If you look at the old 20% proportion it would be quite easy to focus those students, plus probably ten per cent more, on the degrees that the country needs - not what the individual wants. That is the quid pro quo for giving the student the opportunity. If that could be linked much more to companies and to the public services as the CBI suggests then that would be a positive - rather as football clubs do already. Over 30% and you are beginning to have to include apprenticeships and training for important tasks like nursing, assistant teachers, social workers and military and the police. None of those necessarily need a degree, but do need a formal protracted period of training and development which would be far more value than a degree in a spurious subject.

    Thus I think the whole debate should start from the needs of the country, allied to the need to give young people the best opportunity they can to succeed whether at uni or not, allied to further education opportunities for late developers of the kind I had. Not as at present - give everyone an education and then hope that what comes out at the other matches what we need.

    I know this is the wrong time to expect a reduction in uni places - the Government would do anything to avoid more young people appearing on the unemployed stats.

  • Comment number 100.

    Debt is now a way of life....FACT. I can't have sympathy for the people complaining about wanting to do a certain job and having to live off of a certain amount a week because of student debt. Thats just life. Thats what you want to do, its your choice...thats how it is.....At least you can get a student loan. I want to fly for a living with the airlines and that will set me back about 70K .... yes 70! So get over yourself! I can't get a bursary so i have to work for a couple more years to finance my training.......doing a "dead end job"...its not becasue i am thick, its because some careers don't have the luxuray of a student loan, and becasue of which, we have to take responsibility for our own actions and future.

    I do agree that there are too many people at Uni, There are to many pointless courses. You can get a degree in making beds i am sure!

    The trouble is i do find that a lot of graduates come out and Expect a job or higher salary. What you need to realsie is that Uni is such a popular thing to do now, its almost as common as an A-Level or why would you be worth more?


Page 1 of 3

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.