Senior academics have been calling for a rise in tuition fees to counter-act the academic “brain drain” in the wake of the government’s announcement of a Higher Education funding review.
The senior academics from a wide range of British universities claim that higher wages in countries such as the USA are causing many top academics to move abroad, leading to a lower standard of education in the UK. A study last year from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that Britain was suffering the worst “brain drain” of any developed country. The academics believe the only way of stemming the flow of the best and the brightest is to up fees in order to improve standards.
Andrew Oswald, Professor of Economics at Warwick University, argued the tuition fee cap should be removed altogether, allowing universities to charge their own fees. He said ministers would have to be much stronger to stop a “systematic move” of top scholars from the UK.
Dr Anna Vignoles, senior lecturer at the Institute for Education, part of the University of London, agreed, “The United States operates on a completely different system. Tuition fees are higher and academic pay is higher. We need to increase tuition fees.”
The academics’ arguments will frustrate those campaigning against a hike in fees, including Oxford’s Student Union and other student activists who swung into action after the announcement last week.
Stefan Baskerville, OUSU president, who advocates a graduate tax pointed out, “Increased funding is not the same as increased fees: there are other ways to get more money into higher education that don’t involve burdening students with debt. No evidence has been presented that increased funding has to take the form of higher fees.”
He added, “Funding is one of a range of factors that influence where academics choose to work.”
Richard Holland, St Anne’s JCR rep for academic affairs, also opposed the academics. “I would prefer to see the extra money required to keep top academics in Britain raised through Government support and a greater emphasis on the University seeking the financial support of Alumni and other private donors rather than current students. Raising tuition fees by large amounts or leaving them uncapped will only deter those highly intelligent candidates who simply can’t afford to come to University – as in the situation amongst many American Institutions.”
Many students are concerned of the effect a fee rise would have on access. Oliver Richards, St Anne’s 2nd year said, “I can’t understand how universities can justify considering this as a policy. they repeatedly espouse the opinion that they need more state school and lower income students, yet they propose raising tuition fees to a level that would leave many students with debts of over £30,000 on graduation and those studying medicine with around £70,000.”
Last week, delegates from OUSU, including president Stefan Baskerville, lobbied Westminster as part of their campaign to raise awareness of the government’s review of the Higher Education funding. This campaign is a part of the wider NUS “funding for our future” campaign.
Commenting on the campaign Baskerville said, “Last week was great. There was loads of energy at Westminster as students lobbied their MPs. After meetings with students from Oxford, both of Oxford’s local MPs committed to voting against increased fees in the next parliament. At the same time, more than thirty students spent several hours in Oxford talking to students about the issue and handing out flyers, and the response to them was very positive.”
However, he appreciates that this is merely the beginning, and that there is a long way to go. “We need to increase the profile of alternatives to fees such as a graduate tax, which would see graduates paying back into higher education according to what they earn. Clearly higher education needs to be funded adequately to maintain standards, and the question is how to achieve that. We think fees are not the way forward – there are fairer and more sustainable alternatives available.”