An Open Letter to David Cameron and Gov Re: Education

Dear David Cameron et al.,

As a graduate student who will be attending University College of London in the autumn, I’ve been watching your higher education policies with concern. As an international student the consequences of your government’s policies will be far more serious for British students and society than for me. I’m still concerned.

First, your plans to withdraw public funding for university tuition fees is short sighted. Clearly your government’s estimates that the average fees unis would charge – £7,500 (Baker, 2011) were optimistic (see: wrong). Most universities have announced they would be charging £9,000 (BBC, 2011a). However, your policy is not just tactically worng, it’s a strategic blunder.

Cutting funding for tuition fees is like hocking your long-term investment portfolio for lager. A study of post-secondary funding in British Columbia found every dollar of public funding for higher education recieved a 1900% return on that investment for taxpayers (Robinson & Christophersen, 2007). This study is especially revelant because this is in a public funding scheme where public funds pay for about two-thirds of student’s tuition. Interestingly, this is a similar balance of payment for most British universities under previous funding.

It would be discourteous to mention at this point that your Liberal Democrat coalition partners promised to scrap tuition fees (Liberal Democrats, 2010). In all fairness, the LibDems never knew they would be in power when they made those promises. So I won’t mention that – I’ll focus on the problems of the current plans.

The initial problems of your government’s new policies are made worse by the creation of massive student debt. Why, given the role of personal debt in your recession, are you instituting a policy that creates massive, career-long, debt and government dependency? Estimates (BCC, 2001b) suggest, over 30 years, students loan repayments would be £70,000 – £80,000. This doesn’t even account for higher inflation figures (which, let’s face, your economy tends to exceed the Bank of England’s 2% inflation targets in good economic times and in bad (BoE, 2011)).

Estimates suggest these policies will reduce university entrants by up to 11% (Paton, 2011). This means you’re combining higher entrance barriers (tuition fees) and imposing massive penalties (mandatory compound interest) for those who cannot afford to pay their full tuition fees up front. Finally, your repayment structure means that those who earn lower than average wages after university don’t have to repay their fees, while all other earners are penalized with a 9% annual deduction from their incomes. This structure means that those who earn the least pay nothing; students who earn the most pay lower fees; and middle income earners end up paying the most throughout their working life.

However, it seems your government’s policies don’t stop at creating more barriers to higher education (which is internationally recognized as the best means for social mobilitity and growth (CERI, 2009)). Your government plans to coordinate financial barriers with developing policies to create long-term debt for a large segment of the British population. To complement that, your government is dictating research agendas, which takes your policies from dissapointing to frightening.

Your government has scrapped the Haldane principle, the idea that scientists should make research decisions without political intervetion or influence (HMSO, 1918). The autonomy of scientific research is critical for the validity of research. Your government’s plans to force the Arts and Humanities Research Council to spend a significant amount of it’s funding on “big society” research (Boffery, 2011) is absolutely ridiculous.

I would never be so impolite as to suggest your concept of a “big society” is vague, ill-defined and poorly planned. I also wouldn’t want to suggest you and your government lack the vision or skill to define, communicate or implement your “big society”. Instead, I feel the need to point out how forcing science funding to study the “big society” will further undermine its validity.

The “big society” is your government’s campaign slogan. If your government is forcing research funding to be focused on topics investigating the “big society”, it will have two serious consequences. First, it places the concept of the big society on the same level with Creationist Science (which, everyone knows isn’t really science) and tobacco-company-funded lung cancer research. In other words, it moves the “big society” from the domain of the slightly ridiculous to utterly laughable.

Second, it makes the universities funded under this scheme complicit in paritisan pseudo-science. In other words, it undermines the research produced by these studies and erodes the credibility of complicit researches and institutions.

I would hate to be so impolite as to suggest your education policies are foolish – especially as a future student of a British university. I’d like to believe I made a good choice. However, your actions are already eroding British and international opinion of the renown British higher education system.

I’d also hate to bring up Margaret Thatcher. Yet, it seems I have. Even during the infamous Thatcher cuts, education spending was increased by 33.3% (Lawson, 1992).

But I will do both.

You [and your government] need to stop this immediately.

Sincerely,

Ian MacRae

Sources:

BBC. (2011a). Full list: Fees announced so far.

BBC. (20011b). Graduates ‘could pay back double on their student loans.’

Boffery, D. (2011). Academic fury over order to study the big society. Guardian.

Baker, M. (2011). Will the higher fees gamble pay off? BBC.

Centre for Educational Research and Innovation [CERI] (2009). European Universities in a Changing World. Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development

Inflation Report. (2011). Bank of England.

Lawson, N. (1992). The view from No. 11: Memoirs of a Tory Radical.

Liberal Democrats. (2010). Our Manifesto.

Paton, G. (2011). Students ‘put off university by fee hikes’.

Robinson, M. H. & Christophersen, K. A. (2007). Economic contribution of BC colleges: Analysis of effectiveness and economic growth.

Her Majesty’s Stationary Office [HMSO] (1918). The Haldane Report: Report of the machinery of government committee under the Viscount Haldane of Clone.