The bistromath of university fees

In the Hitch-Hiker books by Douglas Adams, one particularly improbably space ship is powered by bistromathics: the strange energy generated by repeated attempts to split a restaurant bill amongst a group of people sharing a table. No matter what, the numbers never seem to add up, but instead follow their own weird science.

And so it is with university fees and loans as being implemented in the UK, where most UK students now pay annual fees of around £7000-£9000. This is three times as much as a year or two ago, but for no discernible improvement in teaching and with an obvious deterrent effect on mature students and students from poorer backgrounds.

However, Scottish students attending Scottish universities don’t pay fees, because the Scottish government don’t want to charge fees for attending university. But students from other parts of the UK attending Scottish universities DO have to pay fees, because the Scottish government doesn’t want Scottish universities to fill up with UK students escaping fees from other parts of the UK, thus depriving Scottish students from the opportunity of a free education. Meanwhile, students from other parts of the EU don’t have to pay fees – because of EU rules, they can’t be charged fees if home students aren’t. With me so far?

Now it appears that ‘some’ students from Northern Ireland (numbers are very vague) are applying for dual nationality in the Republic of Ireland, because then they can attend Scottish universities without having to pay fees as they are citizens of another EU state, and overall the situation is getting sufficiently silly that  it seems inevitable that fees will have to be introduced sooner or later.

Except that might actually cost a lot more. Increasing student fees to allow the UK government to cut the amount it gives directly to universities costs the UK government twice as much as it did before, and taking the effect of higher fees on inflation into account will make it even worse.

So, to summarise: Higher fees cost the government more, cost students more, deter other students from even attending, don’t improve teaching provision and have led to students across the UK finding university choice driven by devolved (Scotland, Wales, N.I.) government policies and the ability to get a dual nationality passport.

At which point I have to ask: Why DID the government choose to increase fees again?

Leave a Reply