By the time you read this, the polls will be closed, and we will probably have an idea of how the next government is going to be made up. One stage of months – years – of debate will have come to an end. What we won’t be any closer to knowing is what this government’s decision on University tuition fees will be.
The Browne review, the body which will advise on the future of University fees, will not release its findings until later in the year. As this newspaper reported last week, the Russell group of Universities, of which of Oxford is a member, will not release the information it sent to the Browne review into the public domain.
While the Liberal Democrats promised to scrap tuition fees altogether in their manifesto, and the Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates for both Oxford constituencies have pledged to vote against any rise in fees, the reality is, when we headed to the ballot box, we didn’t have any real confirmation of where the next government would stand on this issue.
We can hazard a guess, though. Chris Patten, our Chancellor, has repeatedly called for fees to be raised, labelling the amount we currently pay as “preposterously low”. And as reported this week, Browne has, unsurprisingly, privately recommended the removal of the current £3,225 cap. Fees would be raised by £1,000 annually from 2013 up to £7,000, while the price of a science course would reach £14,000.
The writing on the wall says that the cost of a University education will go up and up. Deliberately holding the Browne review’s report until after the election has stifled debate on the subject. What will our vote mean for the price of higher education? We don’t know, is the implication; let’s wait to hear from Lord Browne.
It may seem dull and obvious that a student paper has chosen to focus on this issue in a political event which necessarily encompasses so much more than this. But this isn’t simply a ‘student issue’. If Labour were serious when they set the target of fifty percent of young people going on to higher education, then this is an issue for fifty percent of the population. Not just us at University here and now – if anything, we have less of an interest in this, as at least we know exactly what we’ll be paying for our education.
It’s a question for every family with a child in school, for everyone – parents, grandparents, siblings – who will be thinking about where that £7,000 will be coming from. Maybe the state will subsidise tuition fees for the poorest. It is possible, though unlikely, that fees won’t be raised at all. We’re not reactionary enough to say that scrapping fees completely is unequivocally a good thing – this is obviously a complex issue and needs to be debated in depth. The problem is we haven’t been able to do that. However we voted, in this sense we’ve all been shut out of the system.