the hod carrier and the mortar board #2

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Following on from my earlier post regarding tuition fees and the level of debt many of our graduates now leave university with, several of you have asked how other countries finance & subsidise their own further education systems. How exactly is the rest of the world paying for its university education?

Many of our closest neighbours in Western Europe fund their higher education from general taxation and via slightly higher rates of personal & corporate taxation. Austria and Denmark do so at zero cost to the students, France and Germany at a pretty negligible level of several hundreds of euros a year, and The Netherlands and Italy to the tune of low thousands. Scotland has similarly low-ish fees of up to £1,820 per year for Scottish and EU students, but with those from elsewhere in the UK having to cough-up the full whack of £9,250! Wales utilises a similar system to ours but offers Welsh students a non-means tested fee grant of up to £5,100 to cover some of the costs of studying anywhere in the UK. Northern Ireland’s university fee to their own students is capped at £4,030 and means-tested grants are available. I suspect the discrepancies between the home nations surprises you as much as it surprised me?

Looking across the pond may make you feel a little better but only for a short time. Prices for the top private US universities are eye-wateringly expensive: it’ll cost a student about $43,000 per year to attend Harvard and in the region of $48,000 for Yale. Ouch. But few actually pay this. A minimum of 50% of Harvard students receive scholarship aid from Harvard’s endowment fund and 20% pay nothing at all. The more run of the mill US universities charge their own state resident students about the same as we do, c. $10,000 a year. They’re being a little more inventive ‘down-under’ where universities price their fees according to specific vocational bands with a cap of about £3,800 for humanities and £6,350 for law and dentistry. Clever. Furthermore, public bursaries are widely available and loans are made on an interest-free basis.

The summary has to be that English students are pretty much charged the highest further education fees in the developed world and consequently leave university with the most debt. Scrapping fees outright would be massively expensive, costing upwards of £11bn, and the money can only be raised by increased levels of taxation, reallocating public finance from another source or via the Government of the day choosing to borrow more and increase its own debt/budget. Discussion points range from abolishing fees, reducing fees, increasing support structures such as grants and bursaries, priority targeting, altering the interest rates being charged on debt, and lowering (and increasing) the current £21,000 repayment threshold. Whatever happens, the issue ain’t going away anytime soon and the more politically engaged young people become the more this tetchy issue will raise its ugly head.