I wanted this blog to be positive and uplifting, but today I’m just not in the mood. As I write this, tens of thousands of students are marching in protest against a hike in tuition fees and cuts to university funding. Complex arguments can’t be boiled down to banner-friendly slogans, so on behalf of those braving the cold, here’s why they are right and government is wrong.
Our country today faces a whole host of problems. Our budget deficit is crippling, our climate is destabilising and our quality of life is slipping in international rankings. We need the world’s best and most ambitious brains innovating around these challenges and we need them doing it in this country, where they can generate revenue, jobs and opportunities. We already spend less as a percentage of our wealth on universities than our main competitors like the USA, Australia, South Korea and France- cutting our budgets further makes our universities less competitive and less attractive to the world’s best students and researchers. This is bad news for our students trying to realise their ambitions and bad news for the government trying to bring down unemployment and create wealth.
The real tragedy is that the numbers we’re talking about our actually really small. Whilst a trebling of fees is hugely significant for individuals, the resulting figure for government is a mere £449 million. To put this in context, increasing the rate of VAT to 20% is expected to raise £12billion, and we raise almost £30billion from fuel duty. Yes, we have to balance our books, but let’s not do it by stealing from our future.